Good evening from the Smith Center, where the air conditioner is blasting to get things cooled down after a 73-degree day here on Dec. 30.
North Carolina (7-5) will close the decade against Yale (10-3) in what will be the Tar Heels' final nonconference matchup of the season.
Tonight's game will air on ACC Network, and can be streamed here via Watch ESPN.
Carolina returns to the Smith Center for the first time since a Dec. 4 home loss to Ohio State.
Much has transpired since then, as the Tar Heels dropped four games in a row — one at Carmichael Arena — and lost Cole Anthony to a knee injury. Things finally started to turn around on the West Coast trip, where Jeremiah Francis and Anthony Harris both emerged as solid pieces of the rotation while Garrison Brooks continued his solid play.
With things finally looking up for Carolina, it will get a great test on Monday night from a Yale program that has consistently been among the Ivy League's best in recent years, including a trip to the NCAA Tournament last season.
The Bulldogs are an experienced bunch who already have a win at Clemson this season, and they certainly won't be rattled in an ACC arena. Look for them to play at a deliberate pace and turn the game into a defensive slugfest, leaning on Paul Atkinson and Jordan Bruner inside.
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- If anyone was holding out hope for a surprise Cole Anthony return, that doesn't appear to be the case. He's in a suit, rebounding for teammates in warmups.
- Appears Andrew Platek is in a suit and won't be playing tonight, either.
- Jeremiah Francis
- Brandon Robinson
- Leaky Black
- Garrison Brooks
- Armando Bacot
This is the fifth different starting lineup UNC has used this season. This is the 13th game.
14:55 — UNC didn't bring any momentum home from the West Coast trip. This is the same team that couldn't create shots against Wofford, and so far, the Tar Heels have missed all seven of their attempts from the field. Effort didn't look great on one rebound that led to an open 3 for Yale. Bulldogs lead 8-2.
10:49 — Heels surge ahead 12-11 thanks to one of the best stretches of ball movement all season. For much of the season, passes on the perimeter have been going through the motions. For the past few minutes, each has seemed to affect the defense.
- Considering how that started, things could have been a lot worse for UNC.
- Only two assists for Jeremiah Francis, so it's tough to quantify exactly how much better the ball movement is for Carolina, but it was clear in that half that the Heels simply run a better offense with the ball in his hands. Quick, purposeful passes to lead guys to space and his patience helps distort the defense for teammates to get open.
- Signs of life for Justin Pierce? The grad transfer still looked a little shy to pull the trigger on a few shots, but his energy level was good in cutting, rebounding and defending. Because of that work elsewhere, he ended up with 6 points.
- Armando Bacot sat for the final 6:28 of the first half after picking up his second foul. It's been a tough go all night, going 0/3 from the field with two rebounds. The last shot he took was a soft mid-range look that flew over the basket. When he's attacking the basket, he's unstoppable. When he's settling for stuff like that, he's not helping much.
- For as much inconsistency as this team has dealt with this season, Garrison Brooks has been one constant. Another excellent half with 7 points, 6 rebounds in 18 minutes. He's done an excellent job getting position and sealing his man, and while all of his shots haven't gone, he's made decisive moves to the basket.
- Only two turnovers in the half for the Tar Heels, which is progress from some of the struggles they've had with silly passes and over-dribbling. In particular, entry passes have been on-point.
14:58— A quick five points for Leaky Black in the second half to go along with his eight total rebounds and that's exactly what UNC needs from him. He's gotten two open shots and knocked them down, where in the past, he might look to make another pass.
Heels on a 7-0 run, and Smith Center is louder than it's been all night. Appears to be having an effect.
12:28 — Garrison Brooks has a double-double at 11 points, 10 rebounds. His third of the season.
For everything that's gone wrong this month for UNC, Brooks isn't one of them, averaging 11.8 points and 8.4 rebounds. In three games since Cole Anthony went out, it's 15 points and 9 rebounds on 20/32 from the field.
7:05 — Justin Pierce has 12 points on 6/10 from the field tonight. In five previous December games, he had 17 points and seven field goals. First time in double figures since he went for 18 points, 12 rebounds at UNCW.
UNC keeps putting itself in position to finish this off, but each time, a silly mistake allows Yale back in. Heels lead 55-45 and can put it away.
3:48 — Heels hanging on to a 60-55 lead amid a scoring drought of 2 minutes, 31 seconds. This isn't anything we haven't seen before, but if Carolina is truly taking a step forward, it has to finish strong and not back into a win here.
19.8 — Bucket at the foul for Jeremiah Francis and that’s likely going to be enough for UNC.
After review, basket counts and Francis hits the free throw to make it 68-62.