CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (AP)North Carolina’s top freshmen provided an opening-night boost for the 16th-ranked Tar Heels after a rough year, even while playing in row after row of empty blue seats at their home arena.
Freshman guard Caleb Love scored 17 points and UNC ran off 17 straight second-half points to beat College of Charleston 79-60 in Wednesday night’s opener for both teams, a game played in a nearly empty arena due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Fellow rookie Day’Ron Sharpe added 13 points and 10 rebounds for the Tar Heels, who won at home amid an unusual backdrop. There were only a handful of family members and staffers scattered throughout a few sections in the 21,750-seat Smith Center, which pumped in background crowd noise.
”I think that took something away from the game, but I think this is the world that we’re in right now,” said Tar Heels coach Roy Williams, who wore a mask on the sideline.
”I think we’ve got to do these kinds of things to get those numbers going in the proper direction. And if we do that perhaps maybe by the end of the year, we’ll have some fans in the stands. But it was hard.”
The Tar Heels are coming off a 14-19 season, marking the first losing record of Williams’ Hall of Fame career. They’re hoping for a quick turnaround with a deep frontcourt and a roster boosted by the arrival of 247sports’ No. 2-ranked recruiting class.
Those freshmen played a key role, with Love, Sharpe and RJ Davis scoring the first 12 points of the 17-0 run that turned a one-point deficit into a 59-43 lead on Armando Bacot’s three-point play with about 10 minutes to go.
Brevin Galloway scored 15 points to lead College of Charleston, which overcame an 0-for-11 shooting start that left the Cougars down 14 in the first half. But they got within 39-32 by halftime, then took a 43-42 lead on Dontavius King’s corner 3-pointer at the 15-minute mark before UNC made its move.
”We had that three-minute stretch where we turned it over and kind of fed their offense,” Cougars coach Earl Grant said. ”They got some transition baskets, which, that’s the last thing you want to give a team with that much size.”
College of Charleston: Grant’s Cougars enter the season picked to finish sixth in the 10-team Colonial Athletic Association, where they won at least 11 games in each of the past four seasons. Aside from the early shooting trouble, they didn’t help themselves with 15 turnovers – some in the backcourt as UNC showed some extended-pressure looks – that the Tar Heels converted into 21 points.
UNC: The Tar Heels return senior Garrison Brooks inside as the preseason Atlantic Coast Conference player of the year, but it was the youngsters who took a leading role on opening night. Love and Davis gave the Tar Heels two starting freshmen guards for the first time since the 2007 NCAA Elite Eight loss to Georgetown (with eventual NBA players Ty Lawson and Wayne Ellington). Meanwhile, the 6-foot-10, 265-pound Sharpe was an immediate interior presence.
The Tar Heels brought in Love and Davis with both able to play the point or off the ball. Love was 4 for 11 from the floor but made all eight of his free throws while adding four assists. Davis had 11 points and four rebounds.
”Obviously with me and Caleb both being point guards, I think we complement each other well, with him at the 1 and me at the 2, and vice versa,” Davis said.
Bacot had 12 points and Brooks grabbed 11 rebounds for UNC. … The teams were tied in rebounding at halftime but the Tar Heels nearly doubled the Cougars on the glass (31-16) from there. … Payton Willis scored 13 points for College of Charleston, which shot 40%. … UNC freshmen Walker Kessler and Puff Johnson played only sparingly, with Williams saying they had missed several practices due to coronavirus protocols.
College of Charleston: The Cougars host Limestone on Saturday.
UNC: The Tar Heels face UNLV on Monday as they open play in the Maui Invitational, which was relocated from its traditional Hawaii location to Asheville in the North Carolina mountains due to the coronavirus pandemic.
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