No. 6 North Carolina looks for breakout in Bahamas

NCAA Basketball

North Carolina is synonymous with high-scoring offense, but while the Tar Heels search for that extra gear, defense is fast becoming the team’s calling card.

With only one game across a period of nearly two weeks, the sixth-ranked Tar Heels have tried to accelerate the play on the offensive end in practice sessions.

Signs of their work could emerge against Alabama on Wednesday afternoon in the Battle 4 Atlantis in Paradise Islands, Bahamas.

“It’s a long road and we’re not there yet,” North Carolina freshman point guard Cole Anthony said. “That’s why we have these games.”

The matchup with Alabama will be the first of three games in three days for these teams. The second-round matchup for each team will be against either Iowa State or Michigan.

North Carolina (4-0) has scored from 75 to 78 points in each of its games this season.

Anthony led the Tar Heels in scoring in the first three games. Freshman forward Armando Bacot topped the team with 22 points in last week’s 75-61 home victory against Elon.

“I’m doing my go-to moves I work on every day and I feel like that helped,” Bacot said.

Coach Roy Williams said Bacot has good offensive instincts that can pay off in a big way. He’s the type of catalyst the team is hoping to count on as the group comes together entering ACC play.

“He wants to shoot it,” Williams said. “Being aggressive can be good.”

The Tar Heels are 4-0 for the 10th time in 17 seasons under Williams. Yet his teams have never failed to reach at least 80 points at least once in the first four games.

On the flip side, North Carolina hasn’t allowed more than 65 points in any of the first four games.

Alabama (2-2) has victories against Florida Atlantic and Furman and losses to Pennsylvania and Rhode Island.

The Crimson Tide is coming off an 81-73 home victory against previously unbeaten Furman when freshman reserve Jaden Shackelford racked up a season-high 25 points and guard John Petty Jr. had a season-best 16 points.

“We needed that one,” Alabama coach Nate Oats said. “We needed to get to 2-2 before we go play North Carolina.”

Alabama can use Shackelford’s offense, but Oats is hoping to see continued development at the defensive end.

“I thought his defense is much improved over these first four games, and he’s making shots,” Oats said. “That’s what we’ve been challenging our guys to do, and they answered the bell pretty well. … We’ve said that if you really get locked into defense when you’re a skilled offensive player and just play instinctual, shots are going to drop.”

The Tar Heels say they’re expecting bigger challenges in the Bahamas. The trip will involve their first games of the season outside their home state.

“I think we have to play better at the beginning of the game or we’re going to dig ourselves holes against big teams,” North Carolina forward Garrison Brooks said. “I think it will be a good thing to see us go against some big teams and really see how we measure up against them.”

With 875 career coaching victories, Williams is one win from tying former Kentucky coach Adolph Rupp for fifth place all-time in wins by a Division I coach.

–Field Level Media

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