North Carolina 76, Alabama 67: Tar Heels play bully ball to humble Tide

No. 6 North Carolina did as it pleased in the frontcourt, grabbing nearly twice as many rebounds as Alabama and scoring 40 points in the paint to beat the Crimson Tide 76-67 in the opening round of the Battle 4 Atlantis.

What did we learn today?: The price Bama will pay for being undersized this season is steep and ongoing. The Tar Heels didn’t play especially inspired basketball, turning it over 20 times and barely clearing 40 percent shooting. Lottery pick-in-waiting Cole Anthony was held to 13 points and turned it over a half-dozen times. But North Carolina had athletic big men who knew how to exploit their mismatches, and Alabama had no effective answer on either end. Javian Davis came back down to earth with five points and five rebounds and Herbert Jones fouled out after missing five close-in shots at the basket. Alex Reese had a team-high nine rebounds but continued to be an ineffective stopper in the paint. And Galin Smith picked up a foul every 90 seconds of action while contributing nary a point or rebound.

What were the biggest concerns?: The first game of the season against a major conference opponent resembled too many others across this lost decade, with basketballs clanging off the rim. With the small exception of Davis and the major exception of John Petty, no other Tide player shot above 30 percent as Alabama went 26-for-68 from the floor. Bama elected to spread the floor and shoot outside jumpers much of the day, which limited opportunities for free throws. Jaden Shackelford was held to just four points a week after lighting up Furman for 25 and a Beetle Bolden trey made up the only other bench points for the Crimson Tide.

What was the best part of the game?: Kira Lewis had to be bitterly disappointed that he couldn’t steal the spotlight from Anthony, but credit the sophomore from Meridianville from battling back after a ragged start. Lewis missed nine of his first 12 shots and picked up a third foul seconds before halftime. But he settled down to scratch out 20 points on 9-for-23 shooting along with five rebounds and four assists. And after being a defensive liability much of last season, Lewis held Anthony 10 points below his season average to keep UNC from truly breaking the game open.

Who was the star?: It isn’t guaranteed that one of Petty’s occasional breakout games will come against a marquee opponent, but it does seem to improve the odds. Petty made seven of Bama’s 11 3-pointers and scored 23 points while turning it over only once in 36 minutes. Two consecutive strong games does not make a trend, but with Bama’s limited rotation Petty will get every opportunity to show whether the light bulb has finally clicked on for good.

What’s next?: Thanksgiving evening brings a consolation round matchup with Iowa State. Tipoff is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. Central on ESPNU.

Follow Chris DePew on Twitter @TideFansChris

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