By R.L. Bynum
RALEIGH — Far from the competitive rivalry of years past, North Carolina-N.C. State games recently have been like early non-conference football games: Get the expected win and don’t get anybody hurt.
The Tar Heels easily did the first part with an 84–74 victory Saturday in a game that wasn’t really that close thanks to another amazing game from Armando Bacot. But Leaky Black hyperextended his right knee in the first half. He went through warmups before the second half, but he didn’t come back into the game.
“He felt like he could go out in the second half,” said Coach Hubert Davis, who didn’t speak to his availability Monday against Syracuse but added that it was nothing serious with no structural damage. “He said he felt good but said he was uncomfortable cutting and making moves, so we rested him the rest of the game.”
Carolina (21–8, 13–5 ACC) won its third straight against N.C. State (11–18, 4–14) and has won 35 of the last 40 and 52 of the last 64. The Tar Heels are 18–5 against the Wolfpack in the arena, which opened in 1999 and has been called PNC Arena since 2012, and 22–5 overall in the arena.
Virginia Tech’s 71–70 upset of Miami puts UNC in third place, a game ahead of the Hurricanes (12–6).
Bacot was just too much for the Wolfpack … again. He had his way with State, using a variety of impressive moves. At times, it looked like practice drills without a defender because he scored so easily.
“Going into today, we knew we had the advantage inside,” Bacot said. “Early on, with our screen plays, they went out and guarded it. Once I got position, they didn’t double-team me. Right after that, we just knew we were going to force it inside as much as we can.”
He collected 28 points and 18 rebounds and five blocks for his 22nd double-double of the season (and second against State), the second-most in program history behind Brice Johnson’s 23 in 2015–16.
Bacot is the third ACC player with a least 25 points, 15 rebounds and five blocks in a game in the last 25 years and the first in UNC program history.
“It’s crazy to think with so many great players that have played here. I’m just glad I can kind of cement myself somewhere in that conversation,” said Bacot, who became the first Tar Heel since Billy Cunningham to pull down 15 rebounds in at least three consecutive games.
Most double-doubles in season by a Tar Heel
23 Brice Johnson, 2015–16
22 Armando Bacot, 2021–22
22 Billy Cunningham, 1963–64
21 Antawn Jamison, 1997–98
Most career double-doubles (points and rebounds) by a Tar Heel
60 Billy Cunningham, 1962–65
51 Antawn Jamison, 1995–98
47 Tyler Hansbrough, 2005–09
47 Sam Perkins, 1980–84
44 Mitch Kupchak, 1972–76
43 Rusty Clark, 1966–69
42 Larry Miller, 1965–68
40 Armando Bacot
39 Lennie Rosenbluth, 1954–57
Most double-figure rebounding games by a Tar Heel in a season
23 Armando Bacot, 2021–22
23 Brice Johnson, 2015–16
22 Billy Cunningham, 1963–64
Coach Davis said they ran specific plays for Bacot to take advantage of the Tar Heels’ edge inside by putting him in the middle of the lane and in front of the basket where it’s tough to double-team him.
“We isolated one-on-one,” Davis said. “We felt like if we got him the ball in those situations, that he would be effective. He did a great job sealing his defender, finishing through the contact.”
Brady Manek scored 16 points and two 3-pointers to give him 300 career 3s and tied his career-high with five assists. Caleb Love also netted 16.
Puff Johnson started in place of Black to start the second half. He played 17 minutes after halftime and scored a career-high 16 points and two 3-pointers and five rebounds.
“My biggest thing is just bringing energy, effort and toughness,” Johnson said. “Every single minute I play, that’s an opportunity I get. I just try to do it to the best of my abilities and just let the game take care of itself.”
Johnson put in some good minutes Monday against Louisville, but his big moment on Saturday was his back-to-back 3-pointers.
“It felt great just because I felt my rhythm again, I felt my groove again,” Johnson said. “When I let go of both of them, I felt they were going in. So, the confidence is back.”
Coach Davis said that he’s told reserves such as Johnson that the opportunity will come, he just doesn’t know how where, how or the manner in which it would come.
“He made this day for himself,” Coach Davis said. “When [the opportunity] comes, the only job that you have is to be ready. So, when called Puff today, and — because of the injury to Leaky — he got extended minutes, he stepped up.”
UNC settled this game early as Bacot scored eight points in a 21–3 run to start the game. The lead ballooned to 18 on a Love 3-pointer with 11:02 remaining.
With State’s pressure defense taking Carolina out of its rhythm, the Pack cut it to nine on a Casey Morsell jumper with 3:35 left. The Tar Heels responded with an 8–0 run and led 46–29 at halftime with 60% shooting (they shot 62.5% in the first half of the game in Chapel Hill) while holding the Pack to 25%.
After State scored the first six second-half points UNC scored 11 consecutive points, nine from Bacot, to shove the lead to 22. A Johnson layup gave UNC a 25 point lead before State cut it to 17 with eight consecutive points.
The Wolfpack’s zone defense forced a lot of second-half turnovers, which is ominous considering that they face Syracuse on Monday night at 7 p.m. (ESPN) in a senior-day matchup. The Orange’s zone execution is traditionally good.
Carolina was 21 of 23 from the free-throw line for a season-high 91.3%.
Cam Hayes led the Pack with 16 points and a career-high-tying four 3-pointers.
The Orange (15–13, 9–8) played a home game against Duke on Saturday night.
UNC 84, N.C. State 74
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. 4 Purdue|
|21||89–72 loss, 3–2||Uncasville, Conn.||Y — No. 17 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 ACC||Home||Elon|
|14||74–61 win, 8–2 ACC||Home||Furman|
|18||98–69 loss, 8–3 ACC||Las Vegas||Z — No. 6 Kentucky|
|21||70–50 win, 9–3 ACC||Home||Appalachian State|
|January (6–3, 6–3 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||58–47 win, 14–6, 6–3 ACC||Home||Boston College|
|29||100–80 win, 15–6, 7–3 ACC||Home||N.C. State|
|February (6–2, 6–2 ACC)|
|1||90–82 OT win, 16–6, 8–3 ACC||Road||Louisville|
|5||87–67 loss, 16–7, 8–4 ACC||Home||No. 7 Duke|
|8||79–77 win, 17–7, 9–4 ACC||Road||Clemson|
|12||94–74 win, 18–7, 10–4 ACC||Home||Florida State|
|16||76–67 loss, 18–8, 10–5 ACC||Home||Pittsburgh|
|19||65–57 win, 19–8, 11–5 ACC||Road||Virginia Tech|
|21||70–63 win, 20–8, 12–5 ACC||Home||Louisville|
|26||84–74 win, 21–8, 13–5 ACC||Road||N.C. State|
|28||Monday, 7, ESPN||Home||Syracuse|
|5||Saturday, 6, ESPN||Road||No. 7 Duke|