With Bacot back, UNC uses different approach to earn impressive bounce-back win

By R.L. Bynum

CHAPEL HILL — For years, you’ve expected North Carolina to control the boards, take good shots and beat opponents in transition.

That hasn’t been the case most of this season. But the Tar Heels (6–4, 1–1 ACC) did all that Saturday with a different approach and, with RJ Davis and Armando Bacot on top of their games, easily snapped a four-game losing streak with a 75–59 victory over Georgia Tech.

“It’s the first time we’ve smiled as a group in two weeks,” UNC coach Hubert Davis said. “So, just continue to preach it and reinforce the things that they were doing out there on the court.”

After missing the loss to Virginia Tech with an AC (acromioclavicular) sprain, Bacot didn’t take the opening tip like usual because of his right shoulder issue but appeared to be fine. He finished with 21 points and 11 rebounds, his 61st game with at least 10 rebounds to tie Billy Cunningham’s school record.

“I can’t really fully extend my arm all the way, so it’s something I’m going to have to deal with and something that I’m going to have to get used to,” said Bacot, suggesting that this was why he didn’t take the opening tip. “I thought that was kind of the reason I missed a lot of bunnies around the rim, too, just getting used to fully extending it, fully trusting my shoulder.”

Bacot got the ball more often in the natural flow of the offense and it made a huge difference. It came because Coach Davis switched his approach.

Last season, UNC was successful using ball screens in transition to attack the basket and give the big men good angles to score. Davis worked on a different approach last week because this hasn’t worked this season. Instead, he had Bacot sprint down the floor and post up in front of the basket.

“Everybody else got to their regular spot, and so in transition, we’re looking for layups and dunks, we’re looking for pitch-aheads, wide-open 3s by our best 3-point shooters,” Davis said. “And we focused on getting deep post catches and Armando did a great job running down the middle of the floor, posting up and we were able to get him the basketball, and it allowed us to be really efficient, especially in transition.”

Bacot suggested that last season’s approach of using drag screens in transition worked well because Brady Manek was shooting so well. As a result, the ball would swing around and create open shots.

“We pivoted this week,” Bacot said. “It just means running to the front of the rim and, as y’all can see, just punishing the defenders. I love playing that way. It was great. I got my shot attempts up, so I’m all for it.”

Bacot took a season-high 16 shots (the previous high was 13 against College of Charleston) and led UNC in shots for the first time this season.

RJ Davis kept the offense going all day and had 22 points with 10 rebounds and three assists. It was Davis’ second game of at least 20 points this season and seventh of his career.

Bacot said that some of those Davis rebounds came when he blocked out but didn’t want to extend his arms to get the rebound.

“Mondo’s our guy and just how much of a force he is in the paint,” RJ Davis said. “That was the key to the game — to get the ball inside. They didn’t have any shot blockers that can stop us. Mondo was efficient and was able to get points in the paint and dominate when we needed.”

Not only did Coach Davis change the strategy Saturday, but he hopes that the team finally moves on from last season’s Final Four run.

“You have to cut the cord from what happened last year,” he said. “You have to do that. And I think, in some ways, we haven’t done that. And I felt like today, we took a step forward in doing that.”

Carolina had outrebounded only four of its first nine previous opponents but held a 43–22 advantage under the boards, keeping the Jackets without an offensive rebound nearly the first 30 minutes of the game. It was a season-high rebounding margin (previous was +16 against James Madison and Portland).

Pete Nance had 11 points and five rebounds and Caleb Love scored 10.

Nance said it was Carolina’s best game since he joined the program.

“I think so,” Nance said. “I think the best complete game. I thought we were locked in to a defensive game plan and the ball was moving. The ball was hot today. So I think it was definitely a really good game for us for sure.”

The recurring issue of an opponent shooting well from outside the perimeter continued with Georgia Tech making a season-high nine 3-pointers (the previous high was seven). But Carolina fixed, for the most part, the habit of settling for 3-point attempts, and scored 53 of its 75 points on either inside (36) or fast-break (17) points.

The fast-break points were more than the last two games combined. The 22 inside points from the Yellow Jackets were a season-low for a UNC opponent.

Coach Davis stuck to a seven-man rotation with Seth Trimble and Puff Johnson getting the only significant minutes off the bench.

The Jackets (6–4, 0–1) already equaled their 3-pointer totals from each of the previous two games (5) by halftime.

Even though UNC needed 2½ minutes to get its first field goal, the Heels jumped to a 9–5 lead when Love drove and dished off to Nance for a driving baseline layup. Six of those first nine points came on inside buckets. An RJ Davis jumper and spinning layup made it 15–11.

The lineup of Davis, Seth Trimble, Leaky Black, Nance and Bacot clicked, outscoring the Jackets 17–5 over the last 5:39 of the first half. UNC scored the last 11 points, four from Davis, to take a 39–26 halftime lead.

A 7–0 UNC run pushed the lead to 16 on a Love 3-point play with 15:24 left and the lead never got smaller than 11 after that. A fast-break Love dunk and a Bacot free throw ended a 9–0 run to shove the lead to 19 with 4:07 left.

Forward Jalon Moore and guard Mile Kelly led Georgia Tech with 15 points each.

NOTES — UNC plays three consecutive non-conference games before its next ACC game on Dec. 30 at Pittsburgh, starting with Tuesday’s 7 p.m. home game (ESPN2) against The Citadel (5–4, NET ranking of 262). The Bulldogs will come off a 10-day break after a 79–57 home loss Dec. 3 to College of Charleston, which lost at UNC 102–86 on Nov. 11. … This was the fifth time this century two Tar Heels had 20 points and 10 rebounds in the same game. The others were Luke Maye and Theo Pinson vs. N.C. State in 2018, Harrison Barnes and John Henson vs. LIU in the 2011 NCAA tournament, Sean May and Marvin Williams vs. Iowa State in the 2005 NCAA tournament and Joseph Forte and Brendan Haywood at Virginia in 2000. … UNC had a season-high assist-to-field goal percentage of 55.6% (15 assists on 27 field goals). The previous high was 54.8% with 17 assists on 31 field goals vs. Portland. … Bacot passed George Lynch for third place in UNC history in career rebounds and became the third Tar Heel with at least 1,100 career rebounds. .. Jalen Washington made his college debut late in the second half for Carolina in his first game in two years and scored in the last minute. … UNC honored field hockey coach Karen Shelton, who retired following her 10th national title, at halftime. … For the ninth time in 10 games, Carolina attempted more free throws (24–8) than the opponent. … It was the third consecutive win over Georgia Tech for UNC, which is 72–27 against Yellow Jackets, including 32–6 in Chapel Hill and 27–5 in the Smith Center.

UNC 75, Ga. Tech 59

UNC lineup combinations

ScoreTime12345Segment score

UNC statistics

(current ranking)
28FridayW, 101–40Johnson C. Smith HomeExhibition
7MondayW, 69–56UNCWHome1–0
11FridayW, 102–86College of CharlestonHome2–0
15TuesdayW, 72–66Gardner-WebbHome3–0
20SundayW, 80–64James MadisonHome4–0
Phil Knight Invitational
24ThursdayW, 89–81First round: PortlandPortland5–0
25FridayL, 70–65Semifinals:
Iowa State
27SundayL, 103–101,
4 OTs
No. 1 Alabama
ACC/Big Ten Challenge
30WednesdayL, 77–65 No. 21 IndianaBloomington, Ind.5–3
4SundayL, 80–72 Virginia TechBlacksburg, Va.5–4,
0–1 ACC
10SaturdayW, 75–59Georgia TechHome6–4,
1–1 ACC
13TuesdayW, 100–67The CitadelHome7–4
CBS Sports Classic
17SaturdayW, 89–84, OTOhio StateNew York8–4
Jumpman Invitational
21WednesdayW, 80–76MichiganCharlotte9–4
30 Friday L, 76–74PittsburghPittsburgh9–5,
1–2 ACC
4WednesdayW, 88–79Wake ForestHome10–5,
2–2 ACC
7SaturdayW, 81–64Notre DameHome11–5,
3–2 ACC
10TuesdayL, 65–58No. 14 VirginiaCharlottesville11–6,
3–3 ACC
14SaturdayW, 80–59LouisvilleLouisville, Ky.12–6,
4–3 ACC
17TuesdayW, 72–64Boston CollegeHome13–6,
5–3 ACC
21SaturdayW, 80–69N.C. StateHome14–6,
6–3 ACC
24TuesdayW, 72–68SyracuseSyracuse, N.Y.15–6,
7–3 ACC
1WednesdayL, 65–64PittsburghHome15–7,
7–4 ACC
4SaturdayL, 63–57No. 12 DukeDurham15–8,
7–5 ACC
7TuesdayL, 92–85Wake ForestWinston-Salem15–9,
7–6 ACC
11SaturdayW, 91–71ClemsonHome 16–9,
8–6 ACC
13MondayL, 80–72No. 16 MiamiHome16–10,
8–7 ACC
19SundayL, 77–69N.C. StateRaleigh16–11,
8–8 ACC
22WednesdayW, 63–59Notre DameSouth Bend, Ind.17–11,
9–8 ACC
25SaturdayW, 71–63No. 14 VirginiaHome18–11,
10–8 ACC
27MondayW, 77–66Florida StateTallahassee, Fla.19–11,
11–8 ACC
4SaturdayL, 62–57No. 12 DukeHome19–12,
11–9 ACC
ACC tournament
8WednesdayW, 85–61Boston CollegeGreensboro20–12
9ThursdayL, 68–59No. 14 Virginia Greensboro20–13

Photo via @UNC_Basketball


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