UNCASVILLE, Conn. — North Carolina’s first loss under new coach Hubert Davis didn’t leave him with many complaints.
The 18th-ranked Tar Heels had plenty of fight but not enough firepower to combat No. 6 Purdue’s elite collection of weapons, as the Boilermakers won 93-84 in the Hall of Fame Tip-off Tournament on Saturday at Mohegan Sun Arena.
North Carolina was forced to make do with Armando Bacot significantly reduced by foul trouble and an unproductive Brady Manek — two of the team’s top three scorers on the young season — while Leaky Black was absent altogether. He didn’t suit up because of a non-COVID illness, which deprived North Carolina of its best perimeter defender.
The Tar Heels trailed by 10 points in the first half, yet still were able to trade punches and counterpunches with Purdue, and briefly take the lead during the final 9½ minutes, behind Dawson Garcia’s season-high 26 points and RJ Davis’s inspired second half.
“I told the team that as disappointed and upset and frustrated that we lost against a very, very, very good team,” Hubert Davis said, “that I’m also equally as proud of them of how they did compete throughout the entire game, specifically in the second half.
“Their toughness, their will and their want to in the second half, I thought, was really good. It wasn’t good enough, but I was proud of that and I told them this is a great opportunity for us to learn, and the thing that I’m really encouraged about is that we can get a lot better, and we’ve got a lot to improve on.”
Purdue (4-0), projected as a contender in the Big Ten Conference and force nationally, looked the part. Sasha Stefanovic poured in 23 points on the strength of five 3-pointers, Jaden Ivey dazzled at times while supplying 22 points, 10 rebounds and six assists, and Trevion Williams provided 20 points off the bench, his beefy frame and polished post moves around the basket putting fouls on North Carolina’s big men Bacot, Manek and Dawson.
Garcia grabbed eight rebounds and went 10-for-13 from the field. The Tar Heels (3-1) got 18 points from RJ Davis, who pumped in 16 points during the second half, including 14 of his team’s first 24 points coming out of halftime. Caleb Love added 18 points for North Carolina.
It was an early season matchup in November that felt like March in some ways, these non-conference opponents running off high-level exchanges, while the crowd at this neutral site venue — the arena sits in the middle of the busy Mohegan Sun casino — grew louder and more involved.
“Going into the second half, we wanted to come out with energy and toughness,” RJ Davis said, “that was the main thing. And I think we showed a lot of grit and effort in the second half. I’m proud of my team. So we’ll learn from this, it’s a good learning experience, and we’ll move on.”
Purdue advanced to meet No. 5 Villanova (3-1) in the tournament championship game at 1 p.m. Sunday. Villanova rolled past Tennessee 71-53 during Saturday’s first game, a loss that dropped the No. 17 Volunteers (2-1) to the tournament’s third-place game against North Carolina at 3:30 p.m. Sunday.
Here are more takeaways from the Tar Heels’ loss to Purdue on Saturday at the Mohegan Sun:
Dawson Garcia breaks out in a big way
Garcia connected on his first eight shots from the field and didn’t miss until nearly three minutes into the second half. It became the type of breakout performance that has been expected of the skilled 6-foot-11 Marquette transfer, and an effort that kept North Carolina in the game.
Garcia scored 12 points in the Tar Heels’ season opener, followed by a pair of seven-point outings prior to Saturday. He had poured in 15 points against Purdue by halftime, stepping out and stroking in jumpers that helped stretch the Boilermakers’ imposing tandem of 7-4 monster center Zach Edey and the 6-10, 255-pound Williams away from the paint.
North Carolina held its only lead of the game when Garcia subbed in for teammate Justin McKoy and swished a 3-pointer five seconds later, vaulting the Tar Heels ahead 65-64. Garcia checked in 10-for-11 from the field at that juncture with 9:19 remaining.
“I was excited,” Garcia said of the moment his 3-pointer moved North Carolina into the lead, “just because I knew it was going to be a fight the whole game. We got punched in the mouth, but we came right back and we weathered the storm. So I think I was just excited, and we were ready to keep going.
“They hit us back and we’ve got to be ready for that, and we will be ready for that moving forward. It’s all just a learning experience, and we’re excited to play (Sunday).”
Armando Bacot plagued by foul trouble
Bacot arrived on a tear, having delivered a career-best 24 points to go along with 12 rebounds and six blocked shots earlier in the week at College of Charleston, and 22 points and 10 rebounds last week against Brown.
He had been sinking an unconscious 82.1 percent of his shots through three games this season, underlined by a 20-for-23 clip from the field during the last two games. But no such production from the standout power forward showed up here against Purdue.
Bacot scored just two points on 1-for-6 shooting from the field, and fouled out in 17 minutes of playing time. He was saddled with fouls throughout, grappling with Edey early around the rim and later banging with Williams in the post.
Bacot picked up his second foul 9½ minutes into the game. In the second half, he sat parked on the North Carolina bench from the 14:08 mark to 4:28, after getting hit with his fourth foul. He committed his fifth foul swiping at Williams with 2:44 left.
“At that point in the game, it was just about who was going to be tougher,” Williams said, referring to crunch time. “Who was going to be more physical than the other guy. I know a lot of times guys try not to foul, and our coaches tell us to go at those dudes.”
Jaden Ivey jumps off the page
The sophomore guard Ivey starred for Purdue against the Tar Heels. He skipped in celebration after nailing back-to-back 3s that gave the Boilermakers a 10-point lead in the first half, and took off for a pair of soaring dunks in the second half, among his many contributions.
When Garcia’s 3-pointer lifted North Carolina into the lead, Ivey answered promptly by feeding Stefanovic and Isaiah Thompson for successful 3s, then attacking and scoring through Manek’s foul for an eventual three-point play.
Just like that, Purdue had erased the Tar Heels’ one-point lead by ripping off 10 straight points in a matter of 1:09 of game time.
“He was more impressive in person,” Hubert Davis said of Ivey. “This was the first time I saw him in person as opposed to on tape. Everyone talks of him of being a first-round, (NBA) lottery pick type of player. He is that. Not only his ability in transition, he has off-the-charts athleticism. He’s a great defensive player. He’s the one guy on their team that really consistently gets in the passing lanes and gets steals and deflections. I think a number of times we were right there, and he would get a steal or deflection, he would get out in transition.”
Adam Smith is a sports reporter for the Burlington Times-News and USA TODAY Network. You can reach him by email at [email protected] or @adam_smithTN on Twitter.
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This article originally appeared on Times-News: UNC basketball’s loss to Purdue doesn’t leave Hubert Davis complaining