Caleb Love’s consistent performance would have a huge impact on Carolina’s fortunes.
It’s impossible to predict how far the Tar Heels can go if Love keeps playing as he did against Virginia Tech on Saturday. A season-high seven assists went along with Love’s season-high 21 points and three 3-pointers, as he showed more maturity in creating shots for teammates and showing a desire to keep the ball in his hands at the end.
On its way to a 65–57 victory at Cassell Coliseum, Carolina (19–8, 11–5 ACC) overcame a second-half scoring drought of more than seven minutes. Even though the Hokies had scored a season-low 57 points at home, this was the first time UNC had kept an opponent under 60 points this season.
UNC coach Hubert Davis said of Love’s performance: “This was his best game as a Carolina basketball player.” His performance against Duke last year was impressive, but to me, he was at his best today.” He knew exactly when to pass the ball and when to shoot, and he made excellent choices.”
After the loss to Pittsburgh, UNC’s uneasy position on the bubble received a boost from 8 of 22 3-point shooting and 44.9 per cent overall from the floor.
It was a much-needed Quad 1 win for the Tar Heels. Because of UNC’s limited depth, a double-bye in the ACC Tournament is necessary.
For Love, it was an opportunity to show his team’s “grit and toughness” as they entered the matchup against Duke in such a hostile environment. “I think we showed that,” he said. “It’s hard to win, so I think we just played smart, hard, and with a lot of effort.”
When Love has five or more assists, North Carolina is 11-0. In the final seconds of the game, he returned the ball to the crowd, yelling, “Let me hear you! Say something and I’ll listen!” The Hokies fans had been raucous earlier, but at this point, they had nothing to say.
“That was the game plan going into the game,” said Love, who made all six of his free-throw attempts and is shooting 84.2 per cent from the line this season. “The game can shift.
” There were some changes in the second half as well,” he said. When we weren’t scoring as many points, the crowd was getting excited. So, we had to regroup and play one game at a time until we were ready to move on. What we did was as follows: We had a lot of confidence in our abilities. We were unfazed by the event. As a result, we came out on top.”
After the way he and the rest of the team were treated in the loss to Pittsburgh, Love was content with his performance. These were his fewest since he only had one in consecutive home wins over Boston College and N.C. State at the end of January when he only had two turnovers.
According to Love, who has been trying to figure out a way to help UNC overcome a recent stumbling block, he has been watching a lot of films to see what mistakes he has been making. When the defence was downhill, “I got downhill, broke it down, and found the open man or made it myself.”
Love’s struggles, according to Leaky Black, who had five points, three rebounds, and two assists, haven’t deterred him.
“He’s a self-assured teenager. His confidence is off the charts, unlike any other, I’ve ever seen before,” Black said, noting that Love wanted the ball when it was already time for it to be given to him.
When he showed such confidence and self-esteem in that one moment, it was clear how highly we hold him in our estimations.
Panthers starting guard Brady Manek scored 10 of his 14 points in the first ten minutes, one of four starters in double figures for the Panthers
Armando Bacot had a career-high double-double with 12 points and 15 rebounds in the second half, his 20th of the season and 38th overall (ninth-most in programme history).
Since the start of the season, he has recorded at least 15 rebounds in six games. He joins Billy Cunningham, Antawn Jamison, Brice Johnson, Mitch Kupchak, and Doug Moe as the sixth North Carolina player to record 20 double-doubles in a season.
We’ve done well this season rebounding but now it’s time to get down to the wire,” said Bacot, who had five blocks in the win. For the rest of the season, “we’ve just got to figure out how to not have any lapses and lock-in. As a result of how the season has gone so far, “I feel like we’re due for it.”
Two three-pointers from RJ Davis accounted for 10 points.
Virginia Tech made just 5 of 26 attempts from beyond the arc, a season-low for the Hokies (19.2 per cent). Before the game, the Hokies were ranked second in the nation in a 3-point field-goal percentage (40.9%).
Mr Hubert Davis thought we had a great match with them in transition. There were no layups, dunks, or pitches ahead of the 3-point shot in transition, which we talked about as our end-game defensively in transition, and we did a good job of that.”
The Hokies (16-11, 8-8) had a six-game winning streak snapped by the Tar Heels.
Carolina ended a two-game losing streak at Cassell Coliseum by sweeping the Hokies for the fourth time in a row during the regular season. The only time the Tar Heels have lost to the Hokies away from Blacksburg was in overtime, 81–80, on February 13, 2007, at the Dean Smith Center.
Manek opened the scoring for the Tar Heels, as he has in at least two other games. A deep 3-pointer by Kevin Love with 13:20 left in the half was all UNC could muster in the opening 10 minutes.
UNC’s RJ Davis scored a transition 3-pointer and a layup with 3:59 remaining in the first half to give the Tar Heels a 30–24 lead with a 14–2 spurt that included a steal and two aggressive drives.
Following back-to-back 3-pointers from Love and Davis, the Tar Heels went into halftime up 38–30.
We’re now 8–0 when we shoot at least 50% in the first half of a game, and that’s thanks to a 51.9 percentage from the first half. When leading at the break, the Tar Heels are 15-0.
At halftime, Bacot had one shot, but he didn’t get a shot on goal until 17 seconds into the second half.
Love’s layup and 3-pointer capped a 9–0 run that gave Carolina a 47–33 lead with 14:36 remaining. As of 7:12 remaining, UNC had a 51–44 lead over North Carolina. Bacot scored the Tar Heels’ next field goal on a follow shot with 7:12 remaining. With RJ Davis on the bench, Tech went on a 7-0 run.
Keve Aluma scored 16 points to lead the Hokies. The Tar Heels return to the Dean Smith Center on Monday at 7 p.m. to take on Louisville (ESPN).
A 70–61 home win over Clemson on Saturday ended a seven-game losing streak for the Cardinals (12–14, 6–10), who had lost in overtime to UNC 90–83 on February 1. Louisville had won just once in their previous eleven games, a 67–54 victory over Boston College on January 19 at home.
UNC 65, Virginia Tech 57