ASHEVILLE, N.C. — No. 14 North Carolina shrugged off a lethargic start and ran past UNLV 78-51 in its opening game of the Maui Invitational at Harrah's Cherokee Center in Asheville. The Tar Heels will play the winner of Stanford and Alabama on Tuesday at 4 p.m.
Carolina found itself down 13-0 as UNLV made good on its first five shots from the field. When freshman guard Caleb Love half-heartedly gambled on stealing a pass he was not close enough to reach, UNLV junior guard Bryce Hamilton drove and dunked on UNC junior guard/forward Leaky Black.
Needless to say, North Carolina coach Roy Williams was not pleased. He showed his displeasure by replacing four starters with the exception of freshman guard R.J. Davis.
His message got across. UNC got an offensive boost from senior guard Andrew Platek, whose 3-pointer from the top of the key was its first points after 10 straight misses and six minutes elapsed in the game. Platek connected on another 3-pointer and had eight of his 11 points in the first half.
His shooting loosened up UNLV's defense, which to that point had packed the lane and double-teamed UNC's post players whenever they got the ball. When Davis, who scored a game-high 16 points, and Black also made 3s, it opened the lane back up for their bigs.
Carolina was able to start using its considerable size to its advantage. Senior forward Garrison Brooks, who during the game became the 78th UNC player to surpass 1,000 career points, finished with 14 points and seven rebounds. Sophomore forward Armando Bacot had 12 points and was 4-for-4 from the field. Center Walker Kessler, a 7-1 freshman, also did not miss any of his three shot attempts to add seven points and six rebounds from off the bench.
Leaky Black finished with 10 rebounds and five points. But his defensive effort on UNLV leading scorer Hamilton is what won't show up on the stat sheet. Black locked Hamilton up to where he didn't score the last six minutes of the first half or for nearly the first eight minutes of the second. By the time Hamilton made another field goal, the Heels had run out to a 55-36 lead. Hamilton scored of 11 of UNLV's first 22 points, but once Black started defending him, he finished with 15.
Carolina's slow start mimicked a 14-0 start against Miami in the 2018 ACC tournament. Against a better team, the Tar Heels may not be able to dig their way out so easily.
Freshman forward/center Day'Ron Sharpe had four turnovers against UNLV and it was Brooks with four turnovers in the opener against College of Charleston. Because North Carolina's frontcourt is going to see double teams and traps, their bigs are going to have to be smart with the ball. It'll be something to keep an eye on as the season progresses.(c)2020 The News & Observer (Raleigh, N.C.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC