Cole Anthony was largely considered the incoming freshman with the most buzz in college basketball, and he showed why while scoring 34 points in No. 9 North Carolina’s 76–65 season-opening win over Notre Dame on Wednesday night.
With his father, former NBA player Greg Anthony, in attendance, the younger Anthony carved up the Irish defense all night, taking the game over late to help turn a tight, back-and-forth contest into a comfortable Tar Heels win.
Anthony shot 12 for 24 from the field, including draining six of his 11 three-point attempts on the night. He also added 11 rebounds, five assists and a steal in a complete performance in his first game running the new-look UNC offense. His 34 points were a record for a Tar Heels player in their debut, and he became the first UNC freshman to post at least 30 points and 10 rebounds since Tyler Hansbrough in 2006.
"It just, I think it’s surreal," Anthony said afterward. "It’s a good word for it; it’s like you’re not thinking about anything else, it feels like that stadium was empty to me. I was in there just playing basketball."
North Carolina needed every bit of Anthony's effort to beat Notre Dame, with injuries taking a toll on its available depth in Game 1. Given the ACC's season-opening conference games this year, there was added weight on Wednesday's matchup in Chapel Hill.
Notre Dame made things interesting with a valiant effort for most of the night, including holding a one-point edge at halftime. After a slow start, the Irish used perimeter shooting to get back in it, with sophomore guard Prentiss Hubb and senior guard T.J. Gibbs ultimately combining for nine threes and 41 points. Standout big man John Mooney, however, was held to just 10 points on 5-for-13 shooting, and senior Rex Pflueger attempted just three shots in his return after an ACL tear.
Big man Garrison Brooks was the only other Tar Heel in double figures, finishing with 10 points and nine rebounds. Junior guard Andrew Platek played a key role off the bench, making a pair of threes and adding eight points, and highly-touted freshman center Armando Bacot had seven points and eight boards. As a whole, North Carolina shot 45.8% from the floor and 50% (10 of 20) from three.
The game's critical sequence came with 10 minutes left in the second half and UNC leading 52–50. Anthony buried a three, then assisted one to Platek 23 seconds later to extend it to 58–50. Anthony soon completed a 9–0 run with yet another triple, setting the Dean Dome crowd ablaze and effectively putting a dagger in the Irish's chances.
North Carolina returns to action on Friday on the road at UNC-Wilmington, while Notre Dame hosts Robert Morris on Saturday.