By R.L. Bynum
CHAPEL HILL — Armando Bacot said last week that he was desperate to turn Carolina’s season around.
After a demoralizing loss at Wake Forest, he took it upon himself to get things started right for the Tar Heels (13–6, 5–3 ACC) on Monday night in their 78–68 victory over Virginia Tech.
Bacot scored UNC’s first 12 points to quickly equal his output against the Deacs. Bacot was downright feisty at times, getting into it with Keve Aluma in the second half, and that drew technical fouls on both players. Bacot called it “a good tech.”
“Today was great,” Bacot said. “It was a lot of fun. We stuck together through the tough stretches. I mean, both teams. It was a long stretch when neither one of us could get a bucket, and for us to just be resilient and just stay aggressive and just gut this one out? Tonight, we showed how great we can be if we can just stick together and not panic in tough situations.”
Bacot collected 14 points and 20 rebounds before fouling out late to become the first Tar Heel in 57 years to record 10 consecutive double-doubles. He has pulled down at least 20 rebounds twice in the last five games (22 against Virginia).
Any player who can leap into the same company as Billy “The Kangaroo Kid” Cunningham, who in 1965 was the last UNC player with 10 straight double-doubles, has to be a rebounding machine.
That was Bacot’s 33rd career double-double, putting him 11th on the UNC all-time list, two behind Bobby Jones. Cunningham holds the school record with 60 career double-doubles and had streaks of 10 and 40 games.
The Hokies didn’t make it easy for Bacot after his quick start, though. But fellow big man Brady Manek came up with an impressive finish, though.
“Today, it was a very physical game,” said Bacot, who has the fourth-longest double-double streak in school history and pushed his career rebounds total to 714. “Me and Brady were fighting with Aluma and [Justyn] Mutts. It was a great game. We’re all just down there fighting.”
It was just another Manek Monday.
Thanks to his huge second-half buckets (nine of his 15 points in the last 6:07), Carolina had enough to hold off the Hokies to snap a two-game losing streak.
“The thing that I liked about us on the offensive end is we can attack and we can score in many different ways,” Coach Hubert Davis said. “I thought we were really good at the beginning of the game, establishing Armando down low in the paint, so that was really good.”
Manek 3-pointers sandwiched an 8:20 stretch in which UNC missed all 11 shots. His 3 to end the drought gave UNC a 57–52 lead with 6:07 left. His dunk nearly two minutes later made it 60–54 and his 3-pointer with 3:46 remaining pushed the lead to 11.
“I was struggling there,” Manek said after scoring three first-half points. “I was mad at myself. My teammates got me back in it and got me going again. We had a really good win. Everything that we want to achieve is still achievable and that’s got our spirits back up.”
Manek eclipsed 1,700 career points to push his total to 1,707.
All five Carolina starters scored in double figures for the first time this season, including 10 from Leaky Black, his best scoring output since scoring 12 at Duke last season. Caleb Love scored a game-high 22 and RJ Davis 15.
Carolina moved to 8–0 in Love’s career when he scores at least 20 points. He also had a game-high five assists.
In a week when the Tar Heels are playing three games in six days, only eight Tar Heels played and Justin McKoy’s two points accounted for all of the bench scoring.
Black said it felt good to hit some shots but, more importantly, felt good to win and for the team to show some fight in the second half.
“I feel like this game really showed that we can really dig in and get some wins,” said Black, who had five rebounds and three steals and now has 102 steals for his career. He notched multiple 3-pointers for the first time since he did it against the Hokies in last season’s ACC tournament.
He was expecting a nightmare practice after the Wake Forest game but said that Coach Davis came in and was positive.
“He honestly came in and he was really encouraging,” Black said. “Obviously, we look at social media. We see everything. He knows, at the end of the day, we’re just kids.”
Davis said he got some looks from the players as if they were wondering, “What’s wrong with this guy?” because he was so positive.
“They needed to see me not worried and not stressed,” Davis said. “That led us to really have a good practice yesterday. I said, guys, last week we got knocked down, we got kicked, got stepped on. But I said the foundation of who we are and what we’ve done this year, you’re a good basketball team.”
Coach Davis said he liked the energy of the team in the game and the way they approached the challenge from the Hokies.
“There was a togetherness about this team that I just was very proud of,” Davis said. “In the huddle, this is the first time where guys were talking about toughness, toughness, perseverance and let’s stick together, the communication amongst teammates. Energy was really good in the huddle, even when it looked like things were turning, we all stayed together.”
Bacot avoided double teams with quick moves in the opening minutes but the Hokies responded by creating lots of traffic inside.
With Carolina seemingly content to pass around the perimeter and the Hokies’ Storm Murphy leaving Black alone to help out inside, getting scoring chances got progressively tougher. Bacot’s hesitancy to pass out of the double teams didn’t help, either.
Black made the Hokies pay a few times for leaving him open, though.
A contrast that’s becoming an every-game dynamic happened again on Monday: Carolina had trouble working its way around the Hokies’ screens on defense while Virginia Tech easily got around the Tar Heels’ screens most of the night. Tech frequently drove to the basket off of screens but that got better after halftime.
“I thought we did a really good job in our communication, talking in the second half, making sure that they wouldn’t get any open looks from three,” Coach Davis said of his team’s defense as they started switching more on screens.
Carolina’s offense was horrible during some stretches and scoring inside was fraught with challenges as the Heels went 6 of 20 on layup attempts.
The Tar Heels shot 36.5% from the floor and shot under 40% in both halves (39.5% in the first half and 33.3% in the second half) for the first time since a win over Miami on Jan. 5, 2021.
UNC went up by 11 points on a Black 3-pointer with 13:18 left in the first half. But the Hokies’ Aluma gave them a 21–19 lead on a driving shot to cap a 15–2 run over the following six minutes.
The Hokes led by three but UNC finished the first half with a 7–3 run and led 37–33 at halftime.
Aluma led the Hokies (10–9, 2–6) with 19 points.
Carolina played without sophomore Dawson Garcia, who is in Minnesota because of an illness in his family.
The Tar Heels continue a busy week of home games Wednesday when they face Boston College at 7 p.m. (regional sports network) and N.C. State at 2 p.m. Saturday (ACC Network). The Eagles (8–10, 3–5) lost at Wake Forest on Monday night 87–57. The Wolfpack (10–10, 3–6) visits Notre Dame on Wednesday night.
UNC 78, Virginia Tech 68
No. 4 UNC 16, Sacred Heart 5
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. 6 Purdue|
|21||89–72 loss, 3–2||Uncasville, Conn.||Y — No. 18 Tennessee|
|23||72–53 win, 4–2||Home||UNC Asheville|
|December (5–1, 1-0 ACC)|
|1||72–51 win, 5–2||Home||X — Michigan|
|5||79–62 win, 6–2, 1-0 ACC||Road||Georgia Tech|
|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. 12 Kentucky|
|21||70–50 win, 9–3||Home||Appalachian State|
|January (4–3, 4–3 ACC)|
|2||91–65 win, 10–3, 2-0 ACC||Road||Boston College|
|5||78–73 loss, 10–4, 2-1 ACC||Road||Notre Dame|
|8||74–58 win, 11–4, 3–1 ACC||Home||Virginia|
|15||88–65 win, 12–4, 4–1 ACC||Home||Georgia Tech|
|18||85–57 loss, 12–5, 4–2 ACC||Road||Miami|
|22||98–76 loss, 12–6, 4–3 ACC||Road||Wake Forest|
|24||78–68 win, 13–6, 5–3 ACC||Home||Virginia Tech|
|26||Wednesday, 7, RSN||Home||Boston College|
|29||Saturday, 2, ACCN||Home||N.C. State|
|1||Tuesday, 8, ACC Network||Road||Louisville|
|5||Saturday, 6, ESPN||Home||No. 9 Duke|
|8||Tuesday, 9, ESPN or ESPN2||Road||Clemson|
|12||Saturday, 2, ESPN or ESPN2||Home||Florida State|
|16||Wednesday, 8, ACCN||Home||Pittsburgh|
|19||Saturday, 4, ESPN or ESPN2||Road||Virginia Tech|
|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. 9 Duke|
Y — Basketball Hall of Fame Tip-Off; Z — CBS Sports Classic
Photo via @UNC_Basketball