North Carolina’s top freshmen provided an opening-night boost for the No. 16-ranked Tar Heels after a rough year, even while playing in row after row of empty blue seats at their home arena.

Freshman guard Caleb Love scored 17 points and UNC (1-0) ran off 17-straight second-half points to beat College of Charleston, 79-60, in Wednesday night’s opener for both teams, a game played in a nearly empty arena due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Fellow rookie Day’Ron Sharpe added 13 points and 10 rebounds for the Tar Heels, who won at home amid an unusual backdrop. There were only a handful of family members and staffers scattered throughout a few sections in the 21,750-seat Smith Center, which pumped in background crowd noise.

The Tar Heels are coming off a 14-19 season, marking the first losing record of Williams’ Hall of Fame career. They’re hoping for a quick turnaround with a deep frontcourt and a roster boosted by the arrival of 247sports’ No. 2-ranked recruiting class.

CofC head coach Earl Grant took the loss in stride. “We did a great job keeping the ball out of the post. They (UNC) started to get it around the basket a little bit. They had a couple of baskets at the rim. Then it was just our turnovers.”

UNC’s defense played a big part. “They started to pick up their full-court press. That was an 8-0 spurt for them. We went from being up one to being down seven within that spurt. Maybe fatigue set. But, I think it was our miscues and our turnovers that allowed them to make that run.”

Those freshmen played a key role, with Love, Sharpe and RJ Davis scoring the first 12 points of the 17-0 run that turned a one-point deficit into a 59-43 lead on Armando Bacot’s three-point play with about 10 minutes to go.

Brevin Galloway scored 15 points to lead College of Charleston (0-1), which overcame an 0-for-11 shooting start that left the Cougars down 14 in the first half. But, they got within 39-32 by halftime, then took a 43-42 lead on Dontavius King’s corner 3-pointer at the 15-minute mark before UNC made its move.

Coach Grant expected the pre-season and UNC to be tough.”We are on a seven-game journey in the non-conference. We only get seven games. We knew this game was going to be really tough. We certainly wanted to come in, compete and play the right way. We did compete and did a lot of good things.”

He added, “We will learn from our mistakes, put it behind us and move on. It was a challenging game. They (UNC) were very big around the basket. We had some opportunities around the rim. We were getting to the right spots.”

After the Thanksgiving holiday break, the Cougars will host NCAA Division II Limestone in their home opener on Saturday, Nov. 28 at 1 pm (ET) at TD Arena.