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No. 1 North Carolina takes on high-scoring James Madison

Sportsnaut
Nov 11, 2022; Chapel Hill, North Carolina, USA;  North Carolina Tar Heels forward Armando Bacot (5) reacts to his dunk against the Charleston Cougars during the second half at Dean E. Smith Center. Mandatory Credit: James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports
Credit: James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

Before sirens of concern go off regarding North Carolina’s underwhelming beginning to the season, the top-ranked Tar Heels are looking at some of the benefits of what they’ve been through.

“I think it’s good. We got a chance to see what we have to work on,” forward Armando Bacot said. “We’re kind of getting exposed on the things we need to work on.”

North Carolina (3-0) caps a season-opening four-game homestand Sunday afternoon when James Madison (4-0) visits Chapel Hill, N.C.

Even with glitches, North Carolina has survived in each game. Each time, there have been struggles, with some of those glaring in a 72-66 victory against Gardner-Webb on Tuesday night.

“We’ve got a long way to go,” guard Caleb Love said. “It’s about to get real here soon. We’ve got to fix it.”

Love said the Tar Heels haven’t gotten into a good flow on a regular basis.

“We’ve got to execute our plays better,” he said. “It’s just the little things.”

Pete Nance, a transfer from Northwestern, scored in double figures for the first time as a Tar Heel with 18 against the Runnin’ Bulldogs. His ability to make an impact offensively from the perimeter is invaluable.

“It stretches the floor and gets us a lot of other shots,” Love said.

James Madison is bound to arrive with confidence after winning its past two games on the road at Buffalo and Howard.

The Dukes, who are first-year members of the Sun Belt Conference, are still piecing things together.

“It’s a long journey,” James Madison coach Mark Byington said. “It can be a fun season. I think we’re very talented.”

One area that has boosted the Dukes is what Byington describes as good mental toughness.

“That’s going to help us,” he said. “I’ve already noticed that we can make adjustments earlier. No matter what this year, I want us to maintain our identity. I want to make sure we stay true to who we are.”

Part of JMU’s early success comes from filling in gaps that might have been missing from last season’s roster.

Mezie Offurum, a transfer from Mount St. Mary’s, gives the Dukes a toughness on defense that was lacking. That can translate into more confidence for the team as a whole.

“They want the challenge of some of our non-conference games,” Byington said.

The Dukes have scored 95 or more points in four consecutive games for the first time in program history. Noah Freidel, a transfer after three seasons at South Dakota State, has been the leading scorer in two of its games.

As for the Tar Heels, there are several factors that lead to success. When Love reaches the 20-point mark, they’re 17-0.

Love, a junior guard, is closing in on a milestone with 988 career points.

“JMU is a good team,” Bacot said. “We can’t go out there and sleep on them. We just have to have a better approach.”

North Carolina has been ordinary at best on the boards, outrebounding Gardner-Webb by only two.

“It’s something that can be fixed,” Bacot said.

There are elements of North Carolina’s defense worth noting, as the Tar Heels have 22 blocked shots and 15 steals through three games.

–Field Level Media