By R.L. Bynum
CHAPEL HILL — When Pete Nance left the game in the first two minutes, Carolina figured to need unexpected contributions to overcome Wake Forest.
Although RJ Davis’ second-half scoring surge — with 22 of his season-high 27 points after halftime — was the Tar Heels’ main spark, they couldn’t have won without the play of Leaky Black and Justin McKoy.
Black scored a career-high 18 points and McKoy brought energy on both ends of the court in Carolina’s 88–79 victory Wednesday night at the Smith Center, sparked down the stretch by its three-guard lineup.
The Tar Heels (10–5, 2–2 ACC) rebounded from a tough loss to Pittsburgh by surging ahead in the final 10 minutes to put away the Deacons (10–4, 2–2), improvising after Nance couldn’t continue with a stiff back after he strained it in the first half at Pittsburgh.
“We dug deep, and we said enough is enough,” said RJ Davis, who had a season-high five 3-pointers. “We were tired of having these leads and letting teams come back into the game.”
Armando Bacot netted 21 points to score at least 20 points for four consecutive games for the first time in his career and also had a career-high five assists.
Coach Hubert Davis loved the overall effort because he saw the sort of consistent play his team will need to be the best that it can be.
“My hope is that we enjoyed tonight because we should,” Coach Davis said. “It was a hard-fought game, and I was really proud of them, and they played extremely well.”
Black was definitely aware of the career-high, which included a season-high three 3-pointers, but he was more concerned about getting a victory.
“I didn’t really care; I just wanted to win. It’s always been there, it’s just a matter of capitalizing on my opportunities,” Black said of his perimeter shot. “When I see one going in, I’m going to keep shooting it. That’s just something y’all haven’t got to see, but you saw it today.”
Black said it was all a product of putting up so many shots before and after practice and working with assistant coach Jackie Manuel. With all of that work, he said it was pointless to go out and only shoot once or twice a game.
“Not trying to just be a defender, but to give us something on the offensive end as well,” Black said.
RJ Davis was happy to see Black’s performance.
“I am super proud of Leaky,” Davis said. “I told him that he looked like Steph [Curry] out there. His ability to not just play defense but also be aggressive on the offensive end was a huge impact, and we need more of that from him. He stepped up. He made big-time 3s. He attacked the lane aggressively.”
Black admits that his defense may not have been up to his standards lately. But he and the rest of the team turned up the heat against Wake Forest, getting 32 points off turnovers.
“We’re tired of people having career nights against us; people having their best nights against North Carolina,” Black said. “We’re just tired of that. So we just have to draw the line and start turning this thing around.”
McKoy entered the game after 4½ minutes, easily his earliest appearance of the season. In his first action in four games, he had already played season-high minutes when he came out eight minutes later. McKoy had some nice defensive plays and set good screens on the offensive end.
“I thought he was solid defensively,” Bacot said of McKoy, who played 17 minutes after only getting in for 18 minutes all season before Wednesday. “He’s been doing great in practice and he stepped up, so Coach trusted to play him.”
It was RJ Davis’ fourth game of at least 20 points this season. He injected just the offensive boost UNC needed in the second half.
The continued good all-around effort off the bench from freshman guard Seth Trimble and a three-guard lineup helped put the game away. He scored a season-high 11 points as the lineup of Davis, Caleb Love, Trimble, Black and Bacot played the last 14 minutes, outscoring the Deacs 36–23.
“I like Seth and Caleb and RJ on the floor together,” Coach Davis said. “On both ends of the floor, I think they are really good defensively together, so it puts us in a position to be at our best defensively. And then on the offensive end, you add another guy that is a playmaker, another guy that can not only make a shot, but create a shot. I thought they played really well together and they have throughout the season.”
Trimble was disruptive on defense and showed he might deserve more playing time, proving to be a big-time player.
“That is one of the many reasons we recruited him,” Coach Davis said. “He is just gifted athletically. He is a special defensive player. He can stay in front of the ball, he can rebound the ball, he can make plays off the ball, he can get steals, and deflections. Despite his height, he is pretty strong. He is a really special defensive player.”
Trimble set the tone for the defensive intensity down the stretch.
“I think we are best when our defensive tenacity — our defense — is our primary focus,” Trimble said. “I think that’s when we are at our best. Just trying to shut down [Tyree] Appleby to the best of my ability. He is a great player. He is very hard to guard. He is very talented. Just trying to bring that defensive pressure to the game.”
In a sloppy, disjointed first half, UNC took a 26–19 lead when a Jalen Washington jumper capped a 9–0 run with 8:39 left. Wake Forest tied it with 3:09 left after a 14–7 run and led 38–37 at halftime after Carolina went without a field goal for the final 5½ minutes.
The Deacs dominated second-chance points in the first half 9–2, thanks to UNC only rebounding 22.2% of its misses.
Wake Forest took a six-point lead with 13:48 left on a Damari Monsanto 3-pointer. UNC responded with a 9–2 run, with Trimble getting a short jumper on one end and blocking a shot at the other.
Bacot had six points on a 13–0 UNC run that RJ Davis capped with a 3-pointer to give the Tar Heels a 70–64 lead with 8:06 left, their biggest edge since being up six late in the first half.
Nance’s absence led to a lot of lineups UNC hasn’t seen all season. In addition to McKoy’s big playing time, Washington would have likely played more if not for three early fouls.
“Having guys like Jalen Washington and Justin McCoy get extended time and just step up was huge, and Seth was fantastic defensively, attacking the basket and scoring,” Coach Davis said.
Monsanto led Wake Forest with 17 points and three 3-pointers. Appleby added 16 points and three 3-pointers and Andrew Carr scored 16.
NOTES — Carolina is back home Saturday morning to face Notre Dame (8–7, 0–4) at 11:30 (ESPN2). The Irish have lost two in a row and five of their last six after dropping a 76–65 home game against Miami on Dec. 30 and losing Tuesday at Boston College 70–63. … RJ Davis joined Bacot and Love in eclipsing the 1,000-point mark, giving UNC an NCAA-high 81 players to reach that plateau. Carolina has 11 more than any other school (Villanova has 70). … Redshirt freshman center Will Shaver had surgery on his left foot Wednesday and is out for the rest of the season. … Eight years after the death of UNC alum Stewart Scott, the crowd did a collective, loud “boo-yah” chant during a second-half timeout as they remembered the former ESPN anchor. … The game was delayed for 10 minutes midway through the second half after a woman sitting near the court in one corner had a medical issue. After she was taken in a rolling chair off the court, both teams warmed up for five minutes. … Marcus Paige got a huge ovation during a second-half timeout.
UNC 88, Wake Forest 79
UNC lineup combinations
|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