FORT WORTH, Texas – 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 win his tournament debut for a storied program that also is 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 matchup of 8-9 seeds 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 play defending national champion Baylor on Saturday.
The win was in stark contrast to last year, when the Tar Heels sent Roy Williams into retirement with his only opening-round loss in 30 NCAA appearances.
“Honestly, it really doesn’t mean anything to me personally,” said Davis, a player from 1988-92. “When I see Caleb and Brady and Armando (Bacot) playing well like they did today, I know all the hard work that was put in during the summer and late nights, early in the mornings. It’s almost like a father. I’ve got three kids, and it’s a feeling of just being proud.”
Shaka Smart’s return to Texas was a dud a year after he took the Marquette job amid questions about his future as coach of the Texas Longhorns following a shocking first-round loss to Abilene Christian.
Olivier-Maxence Prosper scored 16 points for the No. 9 seed Golden Eagles (19-13), who lost their third consecutive first-round game.
“I told the guys in the locker room after the game, we’re not going to evaluate the entirety of our season based on one game,” Smart said. “We’re obviously really, really disappointed and upset with how today’s game went. It’s not up to standard that we set.”
Manek, the Oklahoma transfer who had 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 on his way to the school season record (422). He scored 17 points. RJ Davis had a career-high 12 assists.
Smart, who lost all three of his first-round games in six seasons with the Longhorns, had one of three Marquette technical fouls in a span of 90 seconds late in the first half when he complained about a no-call. Kur Kuath got one for hanging on the rim after a dunk. Darryl Morsell was penalized on review after a scramble for a loose ball.
Just before the tech spree, Morsell ended up nose-to-nose with Love after trying to take the ball out of his hands when Love was called for stepping on the midcourt line while trying to dribble around the stocky Marquette guard.
“We knew it was going to be a dogfight,” Love said. “We don’t back down from anything. 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 consecutive 3s early in the second half. 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 solid shooting team most of the season, the Golden Eagles struggled badly from the field early. They were shooting 22% after three misses at the rim in the same sequence. They finished at 36%.
NO BACKING DOWN
After the Love-Morsell standoff, Davis turned to his bench with emphatic words of encouragement.
“I’ve been clear and definitive to the guys about what we need to do out there on the floor,” Davis said. “There’s been a number of times where teams have tried to push us around. And the only way that you can change that narrative of people thinking they can do that is if you swing back and be the first one to swing.”