ASHEVILLE, N.C. (AP) — Freshman RJ Davis scored 16 points and No. 14 North Carolina overcame an ugly start to beat UNLV 78-51 on Monday night in the first round of the relocated Maui Invitational.
Garrison Brooks added 14 points and surpassed the 1,000-point mark for his career in the first half for the Tar Heels (2-0), who fell behind 13-0 and didn’t score for the first 6 1/2 minutes. But UNC gradually closed the gap, then had a 28-4 run spanning halftime to build its own big lead on the way to a rout.
The Tar Heels got a big contribution from senior reserve Andrew Platek, who had 11 points and hit a pair of first-half 3-pointers as UNC sputtered out of the tipoff.
Bryce Hamilton scored 15 points for the Runnin’ Rebels (0-2), who went from hitting everything to missing everything as the Tar Heels took over. After that 5-for-5 start, UNLV made just 13 of 57 shots (22.8%) the rest of the way, while the Tar Heels snagged seemingly every errant shot to finish with a 54-35 rebounding advantage.
UNLV led 27-22 on Caleb Grill’s 3-pointer with 4:56 left before halftime, but managed only one basket over the next 9 1/2 minutes — including an 0-for-10 start to the second half as the Tar Heels turned a 37-30 halftime lead into a 50-31 margin on Davis’ 3 with 15:29 left.
The tournament is being played in the North Carolina mountains instead of its traditional Hawaii setting due to the coronavirus pandemic. That gave the Tar Heels a home-state game, though with fan cutouts in the seats and pumped-in crowd noise, along with bringing Hall of Fame coach Roy Williams back to the city where he grew up and played in high school.
UNC: The Tar Heels, who climbed three spots in the AP Top 25 poll Monday afternoon, came out so flat that an irked Williams yanked four starters as the Tar Heels fumbled around for a response to UNLV’s game-opening 13-0 run. But the Tar Heels settled down at both ends, particularly in doing a better job of establishing their offense in the paint with their deep frontcourt — then began cruising with confidence early in the second half.
UNLV: The Runnin’ Rebels were picked to finish fourth in the Mountain West Conference but had a bumpy start to their second year under T.J. Otzelberger, giving up 49 first-half points in a 13-point home loss to Montana State. Afterward, Otzelberger said UNLV’s “effort, energy and competitive spirit wasn’t where it needed to be.” Things looked better at the start of this one, only to see UNLV fade badly.
UNC: The Tar Heels advanced to the semifinals to face the Stanford-Alabama winner on Tuesday.
UNLV: The Runnin’ Rebels fell into consolation bracket to face the Stanford-Alabama loser on Tuesday.
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