North Carolina coach Hubert Davis finally has the bench he’s been trying to develop. It’s been a gradual progression this season that has become clearer over the past three games.
The Tar Heels’ bench has put together three straight games of scoring 20 or more points. They previously only had one such game all season — when they netted 42 points against The Citadel.
That stat is more surprising considering starting forward Pete Nance has missed the past three games with a back injury, meaning Davis has had to insert one of his reserves into the starting lineup. Freshman guard Seth Trimble started twice and junior forward Puff Johnson once.
In the bench scoring 22 against Notre Dame, 20 against Virginia and 26 against Louisville, Carolina had a different player reach double figures: Johnson scored 11 points against the Fighting Irish. Jalen Washington had 13 against the Cavaliers. D’Marco Dunn had 14 against the Cardinals.
Trimble even earned a spot in the starting lineup against Notre Dame and Virginia for the way he helped the Heels close out their win over Wake Forest. He not only scored his season-high 11 points, his defense effort held Wake’s leading scorer Tyree Appleby without a field goal the last 14 minutes of the game.
“It’s been great having guys be productive coming off the bench,” Davis said. “That’s something that we talked about to start the season — that we have depth and in order to use it we need guys to be consistent in terms of their play when their number is called.”
That point was made clear in last week’s loss to Virginia. Leading scorer Armando Bacot injured his ankle in the opening two minutes, but Justin McKoy and Washington filled in and helped the Heels be in a position to win until late in the game.
It was a watershed moment for Washington, who seemed to solidify his place in the rotation after missing the first nine games this season while recovering from a knee injury.
Once Nance comes back from his injury, it appears that Carolina will play Trimble, Johnson, Washington and Dunn on a regular basis, while players like McKoy, Dontrez Styles and Tyler Nickel will be used more in situational duties.
“Not just Jalen in the Virginia game or not just D’Marco in the Louisville game, I thought Seth coming off the bench in games has been huge for us,” Davis said. “Dontrez came in the Louisville game and gave us eight great minutes. There’s times where Tyler Nickel has had moments coming off the bench. And against Wake Forest Justin McCoy played 17 minutes and played extremely well. So it’s huge to have those type of options and that type of production coming off the pitch on a consistent basis.”
Dunn is developing into a steady defender and 3-point shooter. The sophomore locked down Louisville guard El Ellis after he was off to a fast start, scoring 11 of their first 15 points. Dunn scored 14 points, including two 3s, and is currently shooting 42 percent from behind the arc.
“The number one thing with D’Marco is getting it to gear five and keeping it in gear five,” Davis said. “And when he does that, he’s a really special player. I was really proud of the way that he played against Louisville and he’s just getting better and better throughout the season.”
Johnson’s also shooting 41 percent from 3-point range and made two big second half 3s against Louisville that helped break the game open. It marked the second time in three games that he reached double figures scoring. But in two of his last four games, he’s been scoreless.
“That’s a big thing that coach Davis tells me is that he wants to see me very consistent and playing at a consistent level and doing things that I’m good at,” Johnson said. “That may be defense, that may be scoring or that may be diving on the floor, taking charges. But what he likes, what he wants me to do, is just playing a consistent level in any in all facets of the game.”
Tipoff time + TV channel for Tuesday’s game
The game will start at 7 p.m. on Tuesday and will air on Bally Sports South.
How to stream UNC vs Boston College game online
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Game day details: UNC vs Boston College
Teams: UNC Tar Heels vs. Boston College Eagles
Where: Dean E. Smith Center, Chapel Hill.
Date: Tuesday, Jan. 17
Time: 7 p.m.
TV: Bally Sports South
Series history: The Tar Heels lead the overall series 20-6. Carolina won both meetings last season, including a 58-47 win in Chapel Hill on Jan. 26, 2022.