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Tar Heels flourish as White finds comfort zone

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The North Carolina men’s basketball team took care of business on its first two games over the past week, first overwhelming NC State with 113 points before surviving a pre-Virginia trap game against a hot-shooting Miami squad in overtime on Saturday. Unfortunately, that momentum stopped with a tough home loss against UVA Monday night.

It’s amazing the Heels managed a win over the Hurricanes, who outrebounded the Heels 39–32 and hit 14 3-pointers on 31 attempts (45 percent). Rebounding margin and defending the outside shot are of course the first two factors key to Carolina’s success addressed in last week’s notebook.

UNC rebounded only 16.7 percent of its misses on Saturday, only the ninth time UNC has rebounded under 20 percent of its own misses in the Roy Williams era (573 games) and the second-worst performance in an ACC game during that period.

Miami also shot 57 percent from the field in the second half, led by point guard Chris Lykes’ torrid shooting (27 points, including 5 of 11 from deep). That combo of hot shooting and good rebounding helped Miami build a seven-point lead with 7:34 to play.

But ultimately, Coby White simply would not let his Tar Heels lose, scoring 25 of his 33 points after halftime on a Klay Thompson-esque 8-of-9 shooting, including seven 3s. At one point, the game seemed to turn into an improvised game of HORSE between Lyles and White, a match White ultimately won.

White has been terrific all season and has continued to grow as conference play progresses, but Saturday’s second half may wind up marking the moment when White claimed this team as his own, playing with the confidence (and lack of conscience) that characterized his high school career, in which he set the North Carolina state record for points scored. The roles on this team have been in flux all season, but White seems to have found his comfort zone just in time for Carolina to hit the toughest stretch of the season.

It looked like Carolina was in position to sustain this momentum against UVA, leading by seven points with 7:53 to go, but the Heels lost all momentum after Cam Johnson went out with a sprained ankle. UVA took advantage of Johnson’s nearly six-minute absence — Carolina went 1 of 11 over the final five minutes, and that was just enough for the Cavaliers to end the Heels’ seven-game winning streak.

Nevertheless, provided Nassir Little is able to return from his own ankle injury also sustained against UVA, Carolina remains an improved team and looks poised to make a deep run in March.

SOLID CLOSE FOOTBALL RECRUITING

Mack Brown’s Tar Heels closed out the 2019 football recruiting class with a bang on National Signing Day, pulling four-star linebacker Eugene Asante (Chantilly, Virginia) away from childhood favorite Virginia Tech. Asante brings outstanding speed and quickness—and a nasty streak—to the linebacker position, and his versatility is a great fit for new defensive coordinator Jay Bateman’s scheme.

Carolina also landed massive (6-foot-8, 280 pound) defensive tackle Wisdom Asaboro of Matthews the night before signing day. Asaboro also had offers from Virginia, Duke, Oregon, and Penn State, among others. Asaboro is a perfect fit for the nose tackle position in Bateman’s 3–4 alignment.

In his signing day press conference, Brown could not hide his excitement about how well Carolina closed the class, telling reporters, “We signed a better class than I would have ever dreamed. … We’re so far ahead. I’m excited about this class instead of , ‘Eh, we did OK.’”

Part of the reason Brown is so excited is that Carolina’s class was ranked No. 62 nationally and had no four- or five-star recruits in the class when Larry Fedora was terminated. Brown also noted the extra difficulty the early (December) signing period presents for new coaches, who simply don’t have the time to win over recruits after being hired so late in the process.

But in less than three months, Brown and his staff still managed to land four four-star recruits (QB Sam Howell, WR Khafre Brown, OT Triston Miller and LB Asante) on the way to finishing No. 32 nationally, an incredible turnaround in such a short time.

The Heels likely aren’t done adding new names to next year’s roster, as Brown also mentioned that the new staff had been in contact with possible graduate transfers to further bolster next season’s lineup.

2020 CLASS GAINING MOMENTUM

A coach’s first full recruiting class is usually his best, and it looks like Brown’s 2020 class will be no exception. With the commitment of four-star wide receiver Ray Grier of Belmont, Carolina now has five commitments in the 2020 class, including three consensus four-star recruits. Four of the five are from the state of North Carolina, a reflection of Brown’s emphasis on in-state recruiting. Carolina’s 2020 class is now ranked 13th in the nation and fourth in the ACC, according to the 247Composite rankings.

STAT OF THE WEEK

33 and 6 —Coby White is now the third player in UNC history to score over 33 points with six assists. The last was Joseph Forte, who had 38 and 6 against Tulsa in 2000. Charlie Scott accomplished the feat twice. White is also the first UNC player to score over 30 in a game twice as a freshman.

Jason Staples has covered college football since 2007. You can follow him on Twitter @DocStaples and check out more of his work at InsideCarolina.com.

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