Top-ranked North Carolina knew there would be testing over its weekend in the Pacific Northwest.
Unexpectedly, his opener was one.
Pete Nance scored 28 points, Caleb Love added 23 and the North Carolina No. 1 held off the Portland Pilots 89-81 in the opening round of Thursday’s Phil Knight Invitational.
It took the Tar Heels (5-0) a late 14-3 run to eventually break away from one of the tournament’s host schools.
“I want us to be consistent against each other, and in the first five games it was there for half, it was there for moments, but it wasn’t there for a full 40 minutes on either end of the floor,” says the North coach Carolina, Hubert said Davis.
Love wore them in the first half with 16 points and hit the 1,000-point mark in his career, becoming the 80th North Carolina player to reach that mark. North Carolina has the most 1,000 point scorers of any school in the country.
Nance picked up the doldrums after halftime with 20 points and achieved his career leading scorer last season while playing for Northwestern.
“All credit goes to my teammates,” said Nance. “I think they found me in my spots when I was open. I’m trying to work on these recordings and they went in today.”
Moses Wood led Portland (4-3) by 21 points. The pilots only let their heels pull away in the closing minutes when Portland left the field cold. Portland had just one field goal in the last 4 minutes – Tyler Robertson hit a 3-pointer with 50 seconds left to reduce North Carolina’s lead to 84-81.
But that was the last chance for the Pilots, as RJ Davis hit a 17-footer for the Tar Heels with 26 seconds left to end the game. Davis finished with 13 points, Armando Bacot had 11 points and 13 rebounds, and Leaky Black had 11 points.
“It’s an interesting position we’re in. People have an expectation of what it should look like. And so we should get up at halftime at 8pm. We’re supposed to win every game through 30,” Davis said. “No. We’re supposed to compete and play hard and improve.”
Robertson, Portland’s top scorer, finished the game with 13 points after being scoreless in the first half. Alden Applewhite added 14 from the bench.
“I think everyone is kind of disappointed that we didn’t come out with a win. We know we had chances to come out and win that game,” Robertson said. “I’m going to raise my hand and say I missed some big shots at the end. But I think everyone sees and knows that these teams that we play in our conference are going to be in every single game for the rest of preseason.
Portland took their biggest lead 64-59 when Applewhite scored with a nice backdoor cut with 11:30 left. North Carolina scored 10 of the next 13 points, but Wood’s baseline floater dragged the Pilots left at 69-69 with 7:30.
Robertson’s baseline jumper and another floater by Wood extended Portland’s lead to four, but the Tar Heels responded with their crucial run.
North Carolina: Portland became the fifth straight non-Power 5 conference team the Tar Heels faced to open the season. That will change on Friday with their semi-final matchup. North Carolina has just one game left against a non-Power 5 team.
Portland: It was a tremendous effort by the Pilots who faced North Carolina in the opening round of this tournament five years ago and lost 102-78. The pilots also played without start supervisor Mike Meadows due to injury.
North Carolina: The Tar Heels meet either Iowa State or Villanova in Friday’s semifinals.
Portland: The Pilots face either Iowa State or Villanova in a consolation game on Friday.
AP College Basketball: https://apnews.com/hub/college-basketball and https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-college-basketball-poll and https://twitter.com/AP_Top25
This story was originally published Nov 24, 2022 3:16 p.m.