North Carolina, No. 1, takes on top scorer James Madison

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

Before the sirens of concern go off over North Carolina’s disappointing start to the season, the senior Tar Heels look at some of the benefits of what they’ve been through.

“I think it’s good. We could see what we need to work on,” said striker Armando Bacot. “We kind of become aware of the things we need to work on.”

North Carolina (3-0) caps a four-game season-opener homestand on Sunday afternoon when James Madison (4-0) visits Chapel Hill, NC

Despite disruptions, North Carolina has survived every game. There were struggles each time, some of which shone in a 72-66 win over Gardner-Webb on Tuesday night.

“We still have a long way to go,” Warden Caleb Love said. “It’s about to get real here. We have to fix it.”

Love said the Tar Heels didn’t get into a good flow on a regular basis.

“We have to do our moves better,” he said. “It’s just the little things.”

Pete Nance, a transfer from Northwestern, scored his first double digits as a tar heel at 18 against the Runnin’ Bulldogs. His ability to play offensively from the touchline is invaluable.

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

James Madison will arrive with confidence after winning his last two away games at Buffalo and Howard.

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

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

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

“This will help us,” he said. “I noticed that we can make adjustments earlier. No matter what happens this year, I want us to keep our identity. I want to make sure we stay true to ourselves.”

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

Mezie Offurum, a transfer from Mount St Mary’s, gives the Dukes a defensive strength they lacked. This can lead to 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 straight games for the first time in program history. Noah Freidel, a three-season transfer at South Dakota State, was the top scorer in two of his games.

When it comes to tar heels, there are several factors that lead to success. If Love reaches the 20 point mark, it’s 17-0.

Love, a junior guard, is nearing a milestone with 988 career points.

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

North Carolina was ordinary on the boards at best, passing Gardner-Webb by just 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 in three games.

–Field level media