By R.L. Bynum
CHARLOTTE — There was no need for a fiery halftime speech to get North Carolina going this time. A heated exchange late in the first half seemed to light a fire in the Tar Heels.
From there, UNC (9–4) went on a 21–6 run to storm away from Michigan (7–4) and the Tar Heels held on for an 80–76 victory Wednesday night at the Jumpman Invitational before 19,236 mostly Carolina fans to take a four-game win streak into the Christmas break.
RJ Davis, who scored 19 points and a season-high four 3-pointers, said the exchange fired up the Tar Heels.
“Yeah, we were already on edge,” said Davis, who led the team with a season-high five assists. “It kind of lit a fire to keep it going, and the momentum was on our side.”
Michigan was physical, with some of its antics getting Coach Hubert Davis fired up on the sidelines, but Carolina matched that and showed its toughness all night. He did some vigorous — seemingly rhetorical — clapping, showing his displeasure with what he saw from the Wolverines.
“I’m an emotional guy,” Coach Davis said. “They were getting fired up; I was getting fired up. Encouraging them and motivating them to be at their best and play as hard as they could. It’s hard to have played and then you can’t go out there because I’m 52.”
Duke transfer Joey Baker sliced the lead to three on a 3-pointer with 3:37 left to cap a 6–0 run with Bacot on the bench. A Terrance Williams II 3-pointer with 2:17 left cut it to two.
But an RJ Davis drive gave UNC a 75–71 lead with 49 seconds left and Love put the game away on four free throws in the final 36 seconds.
The much-anticipated Armando Bacot-Hunter Dickinson matchup turned out to be one-sided, with Bacot outscoring the Michigan center 26–7 with his fifth game of at least 20 points this season and the 21st of his career.
“It was a chippy game,” Bacot said. “But we kept fighting, and that was fun for us. And we loved it.”
Adding 18 points, four assists and two steals from Caleb Love produced another impressive UNC win. Leaky Black was spectacular on defense and finished with nine points, 10 rebounds, two assists, a block and a steal and made savvy plays down the stretch.
A Tarris Reed Jr. dunk capped a 13–3 Michigan run — including 7–0 with Bacot on the bench — to give the Wolverines an eight-point lead with 11:51 left in the first half. But the game shifted after Dickinson hit Love in the face, put his knee into his face and heated words were exchanged with 6:53 left.
“Hunter was kind of standing over me,” Love said. “I think he tried to step over me, and I wasn’t going for it, and neither were my teammates. It’s us fighting back, and then, whatever happens, happens.”
After Michigan’s Dug McDaniel and Dickinson, as well as Bacot and Love, drew offsetting Class A technical fouls, it became a different game.
UNC stormed back to take a 31–30 lead — its first advantage in nearly 11 minutes — on Bacot’s 3-point play with 4:09 left. That was the first of 10 consecutive points, accelerating a 21–6 run to take a 41–33 lead on a Davis 3-pointer with 59 seconds left. Carolina led 41–34 at halftime.
“They just told us to just stop all the extra stuff,” Bacot said of the feedback they got from the officials. “But, really, it was just two teams trying to win, and when you have two people trying to play, stuff like that happens.”
Bacot is happy with the team’s progress but looking ahead.
“I feel like all of us in the locker room feel like those are games we’re supposed to win,” Bacot said. “I think we’re the most talented team, but now we just really just trying to tighten those screws and just get better and better every day. … You’re not gonna take a deep breath and get too high on this stuff. You’ve just got to keep going.”
Coach Davis said Bacot has been his best since the Georgia Tech game.
“The way that he’s playing, he’s playing with a hunger and thirst,” Coach Davis said. “It’s not just his scoring; he’s really working hard and getting the ball in the right position. And he’s been really special, not just offensively but defensive end as well.”
Carolina shot better from 3-point range (50%, 6 of 12) than it did from 2-point range (45%, 9 of 20) in the first half. The Tar Heels cooled off from the perimeter in the second half (1 of 8) but shot 53.8% overall after halftime.
Michigan trimmed its deficit to three on a Kobe Bufkin 3-pointer with 16:27 left. But UNC responded with an 8–3 run, capped by dunks from Black and Bacot to push the lead back to eight. RJ Davis hit a big 3 with 7:58 left after the Wolverines trimmed the lead to four.
Bufkin led Michigan with 22 points and Jett Howard added 17, but Howard had to deal with Black’s dogged defense all night.
NOTES — Carolina (1–1 in the ACC) gets eight days off before it resumes ACC play on Friday, Dec. 30 with a noon game (ACC Network) at Pittsburgh (9–4, 2–0 ACC). The Panthers, who have ACC road wins over N.C. State (68–60 on Dec. 2) and Syracuse (84–82 on Tuesday), will come off a nine-day break with a three-game win streak. Hilton Blake, a 6–7 335-pound junior forward who transferred from Iowa State, leads Pittsburgh, averaging 17.2 points and 7.4 rebounds. … UNC players headed to their respective homes for Christmas and will reconvene in Chapel Hill on Monday. … With consecutive wins over Ohio State and Michigan, UNC has back-to-back wins over Big Ten teams for the first time since beating Wisconsin, Michigan State and Illinois in the last three games of its 2005 national championship run. … UNC freshman center Will Shaver broke a bone in his left foot in practice on Tuesday and will be out for an extended period of time. Shaver, who has played in three games this season, was on crutches with a walking boot on his left foot. … Bacot tied his season high with 11 field goals, the second game in a row he made 11. That tied his career high for field goals in consecutive games (he made 12 vs. Virginia and 10 vs. Georgia Tech in January 2022). … Carolina shot a season-low 15 for 27 from the free-throw line (55.6%; previous was 61.5% vs. Portland). … This was UNC’s first game in Charlotte since losing to Duke 74–73 in the semifinals of the 2019 ACC Tournament. … Playing in the women’s game Wednesday night in Oklahoma’s 95–79 win over Florida was former UNC player Kennady Tucker, who had four points, three rebounds and three assists for the Sooners. … Carolina is 165–27 all-time in Charlotte and 15–2 in the Charlotte Hornets’ current home arena that has had three names. … UNC is 6–4 all-time against Michigan with two consecutive victories to make Coach Davis 2–0 against the Wolverines. … The Wolverines had won the previous two neutral-site regular-season meetings, 79–78 on Dec. 29, 1992, at the Rainbow Classic in Honolulu, and 73–64 on Nov. 28, 2019, in the Battle 4 Atlantis in the Bahamas.
UNC 80, Michigan 76
UNC lineup combinations
Both teams faced same schools
Michigan was the fifth non-conference school to face Carolina’s women’s and men’s basketball teams this season. The Tar Heels swept two (the two non-Power 5 schools), split with two and host Indiana swept them. They both faced JMU on Nov. 20 and UNCW exactly one month apart. Michigan was the third school to meet both teams in the same city on successive days, although they played Iowa State in different Portland arenas.
|Opponent||Women’s games||Men’s games|
|UNCW||W 64–42 Dec. 7 (H)||W 69–56 Nov. 7 (H)|
|James Madison||W 76–65 Nov. 20 (R)||W 80–64 Nov. 20 (H)|
|Iowa State||W 73–64 Nov. 24 (P)||L 70–65 Nov. 25 (P)|
|Indiana||L 87–63 Dec. 1 (R)||L 77–65 Nov. 30 (R)|
|Michigan||L 76–68 Tuesday (C)||W 80–76 Wednesday (C)|
|28||Friday||W, 101–40||Johnson C. Smith||Home||Exhibition|
|11||Friday||W, 102–86||College of Charleston||Home||2–0|
|20||Sunday||W, 80–64||James Madison||Home||4–0|
|Phil Knight Invitational|
|24||Thursday||W, 89–81||First round: Portland||Portland||5–0|
|27||Sunday||L, 103–101, |
No. 3 Alabama
|ACC/Big Ten Challenge|
|30||Wednesday||L, 77–65||No. 18 Indiana||Bloomington, Ind.||5–3|
|4||Sunday||L, 80–72||Virginia Tech||Blacksburg, Va.||5–4, |
|10||Saturday||W, 75–59||Georgia Tech||Home||6–4, |
|13||Tuesday||W, 100–67||The Citadel||Home||7–4|
|CBS Sports Classic|
|17||Saturday||W, 89–84, OT||Ohio State||New York||8–4|
|30||Friday||L, 76–74||Pittsburgh||Pittsburgh||9–5, |
|4||Wednesday||W, 88–79||Wake Forest||Home||10–5, |
|7||Saturday||W, 81–64||Notre Dame||Home||11–5, |
|10||Tuesday||L, 65–58||No. 8 Virginia||Charlottesville||11–6, |
|14||Saturday||W, 80–59||Louisville||Louisville, Ky.||12–6, |
|17||Tuesday||W, 72–64||Boston College||Home||13–6, |
|21||Saturday||W, 80–69||No. 22 N.C. State||Home||14–6, |
|24||Tuesday||W, 72–68||Syracuse||Syracuse, N.Y.||15–6, |
|1||Wednesday||L, 65–64||Pittsburgh||Home||15–7, |
|4||Saturday||L, 63–57||Duke||Durham||15–8, |
|7||Tuesday||7 p.m.||Wake Forest||Winston-Salem||ESPN|
|13||Monday||7 p.m.||No. 19 Miami||Home||ESPN|
|19||Sunday||1 p.m.||No. 22 N.C. State||Raleigh||ESPN|
|22||Wednesday||9 p.m.||Notre Dame||South Bend, Ind.||ESPN or ESPN2|
|25||Saturday||6 or 8||No. 8 Virginia||Home||ESPN|
|27||Monday||7 p.m.||Florida State||Tallahassee, Fla.||ESPN|
ACCN means the game airs on ACC Network.
Photo via @UNC_Basketball