No. 18 North Carolina and No. 17 Tennessee were eager to gather valuable experience in the Basketball Hall of Fame Tip-Off Tournament.
But one of them will leave with a much-coveted triumph against a nationally ranked team, while the other will be stuck with back-to-back losses.
That’s the set-up for Sunday afternoon when the teams meet in the event’s consolation game in Uncasville, Conn.
“We can learn by being upset and also being determined to play better (in the next game),” first-year North Carolina coach Hubert Davis said. “We have another opportunity against a very good Tennessee team.”
North Carolina fell 93-84 to No. 6 Purdue in Saturday’s second game. That came following No. 5 Villanova’s 71-53 toppling of Tennessee.
“It’s a great opportunity for us to learn, and we have a lot to improve on,” Davis said.
The Tar Heels (3-1) trailed most of the game, but took a brief one-point lead in the second half. They just couldn’t keep Purdue from going on some scoring runs.
Dawson Garcia scored 26 points for North Carolina, marking the second-most points in the Marquette transfer’s career.
“I thought Dawson was really aggressive to start the game,” Davis said. “He just got into a rhythm, got into a flow.”
Tennessee (2-1) was in a different type of game against Villanova, trailing 35-15 at halftime.
“We have a chance to get better from it,” Tennessee coach Rick Barnes said.
Junior Santiago Vescovi was the only Volunteer to score in double figures, tying a career high with 23 points. Otherwise, it largely went awry for Tennessee.
“I thought we started missing shots and that affected us,” Barnes said. “We let missed shots frustrate us. … We lost our aggression on defense.”
But even though Tennessee shot at a 33.3-percent clip from the field, the approach needs to remain in place in terms of offensive philosophy.
“Keep taking your shots,” Barnes said. “We have guys who work hard at shooting. We’ll get better. We’ve got some good character guys.”
The Volunteers vow to find the positives stemming from their first defeat.
“There’s a lot of people on our team who haven’t played in games like these,” Vescovi said. “I think this is going to help us see what we have to work on to get better.”
RJ Davis has given North Carolina huge second-half performances in the past two games. Saturday’s effort followed Tuesday night’s road win against College of Charleston.
“Just trying to bring energy,” the sophomore guard said.
There could be a mismatch developing in the lane if North Carolina players stay out of foul trouble. Tennessee’s post players combined for just six points in the Villanova game.
Barnes decided to turn to a zone defense in segments in the Villanova game. He said that was largely because the Volunteers were in foul trouble.
North Carolina has won 10 of the 11 all-time meetings between the teams, with the most recent matchup coming in 2017.
Barnes, who went to college in North Carolina at Lenoir-Rhyne, has a long history of facing the Tar Heels from when he was a coach in the Atlantic Coast Conference at Clemson.
–Field Level Media