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Hubert Davis was quick to point out the first NCAA Tournament victory for Caleb Love and other North Carolina players.
The Tar Heels coach was less interested in what it meant to earn his tournament debut for a legendary program that is also his alma mater.
Brady Manek scored 28 points and Love needed just 19 minutes to tie Carolina’s single-game tournament record of six 3-pointers in a 95-63 rout of Marquette on Thursday, the biggest blowout in a 8-9 seeded clash in tournament history.
Love scored 21 of his 23 points before halftime as the eighth-seeded Tar Heels (25-9) built a 28-point lead. They will face defending national champion Baylor on Saturday.
The win was in stark contrast to last year, when the Tar Heels sent Roy Williams to retirement with his only first-round loss in 30 NCAA appearances.
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“Honestly, it really means nothing to me personally,” said Davis, a 1988-92 player. “When I see Caleb and Brady and Armando (Bacot) playing well like they did today, I know all the hard work that went into the summer and late at night, early in the morning. almost like a father. I’ve got three kids, and it’s just a sense of pride.”
Shaka Smart’s return to Texas was a dud a year after taking over Marquette’s job amid questions about his future as Texas Longhorns coach following a shock first-round loss to Abilene Christian.
Olivier-Maxence Prosper scored 16 points for the No. 9 seed of the Golden Eagles (19-13), who lost their third straight game in the first round.
“I told the guys in the locker room after the game, we’re not going to assess our entire season based on one game,” Smart said. “We’re obviously really, really disappointed and upset with the way today’s game went. It’s not up to what we set out.”
Manek, the transfer from Oklahoma who picked up a pair of first-round wins with the Sooners, finished with five 3s as he and Love combined to go 11 of 23 from long range.
Bacot matched Manek’s double-double while grabbing 10 rebounds en route to the school season record (422). He scored 17 points. RJ Davis had a career-high 12 assists.
Smart, who lost his three first-round games in six seasons with the Longhorns, committed one of Marquette’s three technical fouls in 90 seconds at the end of the first half when he complained about a no-call. Kur Kuath got one for hanging on the edge after a dunk. Darryl Morsell was penalized during review after a run for a stray ball.
Just before the tech frenzy, Morsell came face to face with Love after trying to wrestle the ball out of his hands when Love was called for stepping down the halfway line while trying to dribble past Marquette’s stocky guard.
“We knew it was going to be a dogfight,” Love said. “We’re not backing down. Just my competitive nature and my team’s competitive nature just came out and, you know, we played it smart.”
The Tar Heels were already up 18 when players from both teams had to be separated. It quickly got worse from there.
Carolina finished the first half on a 16-4 run for a 53-25 lead, and Manek made it a 34-point game (67-33) with a straight 3 early in the second half. time. The biggest lead for the Tar Heels was 35.
North Carolina: The last time Carolina played Marquette in the NCAA Tournament, in 2011, the Tar Heels had 25 points at halftime. They bounced back to win that game 81-63.
Marquette: A strong shooting team for most of the season, the Golden Eagles struggled early on on the field. They were shooting 22% after three rim misses in the same stretch. They finished at 36%.
After the Love-Morsell clash, Davis turned to his bench with emphatic words of encouragement.
“I’ve been clear and definitive with the guys on what we need to do on the field,” Davis said. “There have been a number of times teams have tried to shove us. And the only way to change that narrative of people thinking they can do that is to go back and be the first to swing. “