By R.L. Bynum
CHAPEL HILL — How do you beat Virginia’s pack line defense?
North Carolina more than met that challenge in a 74–58 victory in the Smith Center with good ball movement, quick cross-court passes, effective screening and good shooting.
The most effective weapon against Virginia on Saturday, though, was Armando Bacot, who couldn’t be stopped and had career-highs of 29 points and 22 rebounds.
Bacot even amazed himself.
“It’s something you never would imagine and think you could do,” said Bacot, who became the second Tar Heel to pull down 20 rebounds in the Smith Center after assistant coach Sean May did it three times in his career from 2002 to 2005. “It was a really special night. Coach May, he helped me out throughout the week just telling me just keep going, keep going.”
The painfully frustrating seven-game losing streak against the Cavaliers is history as UNC (11–4, 3–1 ACC) got a nice bounce-back victory.
“Coming off the tough loss on Wednesday, I was really upset,” Bacot said of the 78–73 defeat at Notre Dame. “I said in this new year, I would make sure I will be as energized and give my all in every game. But me being a leader, I had to do a better job of just preparing everybody to match my energy and coach energy, too. Today, we came out and did that. It’s still a learning process for me.”
Brady Manek, starting his second consecutive game with Dawson Garcia out (concussion), scored 19 points and Caleb Love pitched in 16.
Bacot said that the team really wanted to win the game for Virginia transfer Justin McKoy, and he was hungry to get his first victory over the Cavaliers. He credited assistant coach Jeff Lebo for doing a good job scouting Virginia.
“It was a lot of different looks that we threw at them,” said Bacot, who got his sixth consecutive double-double and 11th in 15 games. “We just did a good job of executing it. And when we play with energy, I mean we could be a great team. So, it it doesn’t really matter how we play. We’ve just got to play with energy.”
UNC solved Virginia’s vexing defense to get its first win since beating the Cavaliers 65–41 on Feb. 18, 2017, in Chapel Hill, which was also the last time the Heels had a double-digit lead on Virginia (9–6, 3–2).
“You have to have spacing, balance and movement,” Coach Hubert Davis said of how his team navigated the pack line defense. “In our offensive sets, one of the things that we talked about, it just has to be movement; we’ve got to change sides of the floor. We’ve got to give them a chance to make a mistake. Just can’t come down on the floor and just be stationary try to attack. It’s just not gonna work for them.”
It was the first time UNC has scored more than 70 points against Virginia in 18 games.
“We just had to value each possession down the floor,” Love said. “We were just getting a lot of movement. We got open shots. Really, it was Mondo down low and Brady stretching the floor, so they couldn’t really guard any of us.”
Bacot became the first Tar Heel to collect at least 20 points and 20 rebounds since Brice Johnson had 39 points and 23 rebounds on Jan. 4, 2016, in a 106–90 victory at Florida State.
The last 20-20 game against Virginia was from Wake Forest’s Tim Duncan with 21 points and 23 rebounds on Feb. 22, 1997. It as the most rebounds by an ACC player in a game since Notre Dame’s Zach Auguste had 22 against Duke in the 2016 ACC tournament.
“To be able to do it against a Virginia team that is very physical and tries to double-team every time you put the floor on the block?” Coach Davis said. “That’s the best performance I’ve seen from anybody against Virginia.”
Bacot, Love and RJ Davis didn’t come out until the last 1:35 of the game. Coach Davis said that heavy playing time had to do with the trio playing well and the limited bench.
The chemistry between Bacot and Manek just keeps getting better.
“Their communication on both ends of the floor? It’s just really good. It’s nothing forced. It’s really just organic,” Coach Davis said. “It seems like those two have been on the floor a lot longer than just this season.”
Manek said that he quickly forged a good relationship with Bacot, one where they never yell at each other and are just supportive.
“We’re very opposite. We’re very different people, very different basketball players,” said Manek, who had five 3-pointers and a career-high five assists. “But it goes well together.”
UNC went up 19–14 but went scoreless for nearly four minutes before Bacot scored inside, while the Cavaliers had success getting the ball inside. Love followed a 3-pointer with a steal and a layup to give the Tar Heels a 26–20 lead with 4:10 left.
Carolina led by as many as seven points before taking a 31–26 halftime lead, shooting 48.3%.
Manek generated the first five second-half points with a 3-pointer and an assist on a Bacot dunk and UNC rolled from there. Manek’s 3-pointer capped a 10–0 run to push the lead to 57–38 with 10:15 left. Bacot’s dunk with 2:18 left ballooned the lead to 25.
Reece Beekman led Virginia with 13 points and Armaan Franklin added 12.
The Cavaliers committed 10 turnovers and are now 3–4 this season when they turn the ball over at least 10 times.
The Tar Heels get a week off before Georgia Tech visits the Smith Center next Saturday at 8 p.m. (ACC Network). The Yellow Jackets (6–8, 0–4), who lost to UNC 79–62 in Atlanta on Dec. 5, lost at home 72–68 in overtime Saturday to Notre Dame for their third consecutive loss.
UNC 74, Virginia 58
UNC season statistics
day, time, TV
|5||83–55 exhibition win||Home||Elizabeth City State|
|9||83–67 win, 1–0||Home||Loyola Maryland|
|12||94–87 win, 2–0||Home||Brown|
|16||94–83 win, 3–0||Road||College of Charleston|
|20||93–84 loss, 3–1||Uncasville, Conn.||Y — No. 3 Purdue|
|21||89–72 loss, 3–2||Uncasville, Conn.||Y — No. 18 Tennessee|
|23||72–53 win, 4–2||Home||UNC Asheville|
(5–1, 1-0 ACC)
|1||72–51 win, 5–2||Home||X — Michigan|
|5||79–62 win, |
6–2, 1-0 ACC
|11||80–63 win, 7–2||Home||Elon|
|14||74–61 win, 8–2||Home||Furman|
|18||98–69 loss, 8–3||Las Vegas||Z — No. 16 Kentucky|
|21||70–50 win, 9–3||Home||Appalachian State|
(2–1, 2–1 ACC)
|2||91–65 win, |
10–3, 2–0 ACC
|5||78–73 loss, |
10–4, 2–1 ACC
|8||74–58 win, |
11–4, 3–1 ACC
|15||Saturday, 8, ACCN||Home||Georgia Tech|
|18||Tuesday, TBA, ESPN||Road||Miami|
|22||Saturday, 8, ACCN||Road||Wake Forest|
|26||Wednesday, RSN||Home||Boston College|
|29||Saturday, 2, ACCN||Home||N.C. State|
|31||Monday, 7, ESPN||Road||Louisville|
|5||Saturday, 6, ESPN||Home||No. 2 Duke|
|8||Tuesday, 9, |
ESPN or ESPN2
|12||Saturday, 2, |
ESPN or ESPN2
|16||Wednesday, 8, ACCN||Home||Pittsburgh|
|19||Saturday, 4, |
ESPN or ESPN2
|21||Monday, 7, ESPN||Home||Louisville|
|26||Saturday, 2 or 4, ESPN or ESPN2||Road||N.C. State|
|28||Monday, 7, ESPN||Home||Syracuse|
|5||Saturday, 6, ESPN||Road||No. 2 Duke|
Y — Basketball Hall of Fame Tip-Off; Z — CBS Sports Classic
Photo via @UNC_Basketball