Love, exciting and new: Freshman PG leads UNC in opener

The Tar Heels had 10 different players score, including four in double figures

UNC freshman guard Caleb Love, left, and College of Charleston guard Zep Jasper chase a loose ball during the Tar Heels' win Wednesday in both teams' season opener in Chapel Hill. (Gerry Broome / AP Photo)

North Carolina went on a 23-3 run after College of Charleston took its only lead of the game in the second half to pull away to a 79-60 win in the Tar Heels’ season opener.

UNC showed signs of blowing it open early, jumping out to a 16-2 lead, as Charleston missed its first 11 shot attempts in the game. The Cougars fought their way back, however, outrebounding the much taller Tar Heels for much of the first half and cutting the halftime margin to seven.

Charleston then opened the second half on an 11-3 run to take a 43-42 lead, spurring Carolina’s run to put the game out of reach.

“I could tell this team was different (from last year) once we got down,” Garrison Brooks said. “We were able to turn up on defense and get back into the game.”

Three thoughts

1. UNC played all six of its freshmen, with Caleb Love and RJ Davis starting at the two guard positions. It’s the first time UNC had two freshmen starters to open the season since 2006 and the first time two freshmen guards started any UNC game since 2007. Love finished with a team-high 17 points and a team-high four assists. Davis added 11 points. Big man Day’Ron Sharpe also reached double figures with 13 points and 10 rebounds. Walker Kessler and Puff Johnson didn’t get as many minutes, which Roy Williams explained was because they had just returned to practice after being in COVID protocols.

2. Due to COVID restrictions, fans were not allowed into the Smith Center, creating an eerie feeling as sounds echoed throughout the cavernous building. Recordings of the pep band were used for the team’s entrance onto the floor and into and out of timeouts. The usual scoreboard hype videos were played. Fewer than 100 family members were allowed in for the game.

3. UNC struggled with its shot during last year’s losing season, and those concerns popped up again at times on Wednesday. The Heels shot just 39% from the field, including 32% in the second half. They also hit just 1-of-10 from three after halftime, finishing the game shooting 22% from outside.

“We’re going to be much a better shooting team than we were last year,” Williams said. “We didn’t show it tonight.”

Number to Know

30-10 — UNC’s edge in second-chance points. Armando Bacot, who struggled at times last season with being aggressive at the rim, had several powerful put backs, showing the offseason improvement he’s made since his freshman year.

They Said It

“It’s not one thing. It’s two things: offense and defense. Both.”

— Tar Heels coach Roy Williams on what the team needs to improve on

Player of the Game

Day’Ron Sharpe, Tar Heels center — The freshman opened his career with a double-double off the bench. “Day’Ron had a magnificent preseason,” Williams said. “It was a flip of the coin who to start. I was going to start him in the second half and Armando (Bacot) in the first, but he already had two fouls.”

Critical thinking

In addition to struggling on the boards early — Charleston’s 6-foot-8 Osinachi Smart had 11 first-half rebounds — UNC had a few other areas of concern. The Cougars hit 34.8% from three, which helped shoot them back into the game. They were also able to drive the ball into the paint fairly regularly, calling UNC’s perimeter defense into question. Two Tar Heels — the freshman Love and senior Andrew Platek—were also beaten on back-door plays for layups.

Sharpe also had a teachable moment. He was knocked off his feet while going up for a Davis lob pass. He pulled himself to his feet and began jogging up court. Sharpe had almost reached half court when Charleston scored on a layup. He was immediately taken out of the game, and Williams read him the riot act following the next time out. Veteran big man Sterling Manley then came over to offer Sharpe some encouragement before he went back into the game.