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UNC vs. Elon: three things learned

It wasn’t pretty, but last night the Tar Heels took a decisive victory over Elon, 80-63. The Heels have managed to secure a win this season in a number of ways, but shooting 27 of their 35 free throws is one of the news. They also needed every free throw, as the Heels ended this game realizing only 39% of their field goal attempts after knocking down 56% of their shots against Georgia Tech. Not exactly ideal, but at the end of the day a win is a win, and Elon deserves a lot of credit for how they defended UNC for 40 minutes.

Let’s go ahead and review three things we learned from last night’s win over the Phoenix.

Caleb Love’s Dominant Performance

While I do my best to avoid making comparisons as much as possible, it’s hard to watch Caleb Love’s performance last night and not see Tar Heel’s familiar shadow chasing him across the floor. Love had quite a performance against the Phoenix, finishing with 22 points, five rebounds and an assist. He’s gone 7 of 14 from the field and made 57% of his three-point attempts, including a few from the NBA.

While all of her acts are amazing, they don’t tell the whole story of The Night of Love. As the game progressed, it was pretty obvious that Love knew he could dominate anyone Elon assigned to him, and the look he had in his eyes was similar to that of another guy wearing the number 2, Joel Berry. We’ve been waiting patiently for a point guard who could put on Berry’s shoes and have nights as aggressive / dominant as him, and Love now appears to be that guy. He was playing great on the ball screens, stole and escaped for highlighted dunks, and made a lot of good passes. Missed by the dunk tomahawk, Love was an absolute killer on the floor, and it will be incredibly difficult for teams to stop in the ACC game.

Winning ugly (and weird)

Every season there’s always a game you can point to and say, “Okay, this team can win ugly games, which is great if this team is to be successful. Last year might not be the best example of this, but it’s safe to say this year’s squad are now certified in their lousy winning ability. Caleb Love aside, there was really nothing pretty about this game, as I pointed out above when discussing their shooting percentage. However, they did it, and not only was it ugly… it was a little weird.

It’s a rarity to see one team both shooting a bunch of free throws, and also preventing another team from barely shooting any. In the first half of the game, Elon didn’t shoot any free throws while the Heels attempted 14. In the second half, the Heels sent the Phoenix to the line to shoot nine free throws, but they were still able to. attempt 21 of theirs, bringing their total to 35 for the match. Does that mean if UNC shot as many free throws as Elon they could have lost? Well, probably yes, but there are also two bigger takeaways here: One of them: This team shoots pretty well on free throws, which will be important in close matches (Bacot has a bit skewed the numbers because he was the only player to have missed more than two attempts). The second point to remember is that this team is get at the free throw line which is a sign that the UNC is doing a really good job at being aggressive and attacking the basket. It’s really hard to get those calls when players are passive and taking a bunch of jump shots.

Sure, it’s Elon and the game should have been won by a bigger margin, but they haven’t really been knocked down as you might think against any Power Five team so far this season. UNC took the win, lousy as it was, and that’s all that matters.

This defense continues to improve

I’m not going to lie: I didn’t like hearing how many three-pointers Elon attempted per game until last night. Tar Heel fans know it’s not about what their shooting percentage is at this point, but it’s about whether the Heels would let someone get hot and have a game that didn’t. absolutely nonsense. The Phoenix ended up attempting 29 three-pointers, but they only managed eight thanks to UNC’s stingy perimeter defense. They also only allowed the Phoenix to shoot 43% for the entire game and stole the ball from Elon 12 times.

One aspect that we don’t discuss enough about ugly wins is very good defense, and not only have the Heels been performing well in this department, they have done so while barely sending Elon to the free throw line. Things have taken quite 180 in the Defense Department for UNC, and it looks like most of us can all finally expire. One would hope they don’t lose focus for the rest of the season and allow opponents to shoot high clips, but we’ll just have to wait and see.

For now, we can celebrate the fact that Hubert Davis has found a way to have this team play with the defensive intensity it takes to have a big run not only in the ACC but in the NCAA tournament as well. He and the team deserve a lot of credit, and now in Furman on Tuesday night.