By R.L. Bynum
Armando Bacot looked a little gimpy at times, but he was a warrior as always, and played through a left-ankle injury.
It was just the boost North Carolina needed as he led a decisive first-half run that gave the Tar Heels control on their way to an 80–59 victory Saturday at Denny Crum Court in Louisville, Ky.
The breakout performance for UNC (12–6, 4–3 ACC) on both ends of the court, though, was from 6–5 sophomore D’Marco Dunn, who collected 14 points, two 3-pointers, five rebounds and two steals in 26 minutes, all career-highs, while playing excellent defense on El Ellis, Louisville’s leading scorer. Dunn lead all players with a +25 for the game.
“When he is locked in defensively, I think he’s gifted on that end,” UNC coach Hubert Davis told the Tar Heel Sports Network after the game. “He has long arms, he’s a strong, big guard that I think can guard multiple positions. When he locks in and gives that type of effort … that was huge for us.”
Carolina outscored Louisville 9–2 in the first three minutes after Dunn came in for the first time with 9:24 left in the first half.
“I just thought it was kind of lackadaisical at the beginning; we just weren’t locking in,” said Dunn, who played at the four spot, the three spot and the two spot, told the THSN. “My role was to bring energy off the bench. That’s what I sought to do, and I think I did that.”
In his second career start, Puff Johnson scored a season-high 12 for his third double-figure game of the season and sixth of his career. Five Tar Heels scored in double figures for the first time since the Alabama game.
“Every guy that played, I can spend 30 minutes talking about him on the impact that he made out there on the floor to help our team to be successful today,” Coach Davis said.
Defense fueled offense for the Tar Heels, who scored 23 points off 14 turnovers, including 11 steals. Caleb Love had a career-high five steals and Leaky Black swiped two. Carolina had a season-best 17–2 advantage in fast-break points.
“I think that the energy was infectious,” Dunn said. “I think we are all just locked in defensively. I think we just followed our principles and it led to steals.”
Dunn said that he likes the spacing Carolina has used recently on defense.
“[We’re] trying to make them use a screen a lot more,” Dunn said. “We’re using a lot more coverages. I think we’re a dynamic enough team to use different coverages.”
Only foul trouble could slow Bacot, who had his 10th double-double this season and 59th of his career by halftime, finishing with 14 points and 16 rebounds. In the games he’s played at least two minutes, UNC has won six of the last seven.
“He had a double-double in the first half on one ankle,” Coach Davis said. “It was just amazing.”
Bacot, who didn’t practice Thursday or Friday and was still wearing a boot Friday, decided that he wanted to try to play when he felt good at the team hotel on Saturday morning and ended up starting.
RJ Davis had 12 points and five assists and Love added 10 points. Jalen Washington and Black both scored six.
“At the beginning of the game, we were a little shaky on both ends of the floor,” Coach Davis said. “After the first six or seven minutes, we finally started playing the way that we wanted to play. I thought we were doing a much better job of getting stops, rebounding and creating turnovers and then get out on the fast break and being able score.”
Carolina outrebounded Louisville 40–31 and rebounded 32% of its misses.
Ellis scored seven points in a 9–0 run for Louisville (2–16, 0–7) to take a 15–9 lead with 13:28 left. He scored 11 points in the first 6:32 of the game, but Dunn and Seth Trimble combined to hold him scoreless for the rest of the first half, although Ellis finished with 22.
A pair of Bacot dunks ended a more than four-minute UNC scoring drought, and he scored all 11 of his first-half points in a 17–4 run to take a 24–19 lead. The lineup of Davis, Love, Dunn, Styles and Washington outscored Louisville 13–5 over the last 5:08 of the first half to give Carolina a 37–26 halftime edge.
Johnson scored eight points in a 16–2 run, including a pair of 3-pointers, to balloon Carolina’s lead to 18 on a Leaky Black dunk with 15:34 left. A Johnson layup pushed the lead to 23 with 6:54 left.
NOTES — Carolina returns home for its next two games, facing Boston College at 7 p.m. Tuesday and N.C. State at 5 p.m. Saturday. The Eagles (8–9, 2–4) took a two-game losing streak into Saturday night’s home game against Wake Forest. The Wolfpack (14–4, 4–3) beat No. 16 Miami at home Saturday in overtime 83–81. … Love had his streak of scoring at least one 3-pointer snapped at 45 games. … Love has 1,219 career points, tying James Worthy for 60th in UNC history. Love passed assistant coach Sean May (1,213). … Bacot is one double-double away from tying Billy Cunningham’s program career record (which he collected in only three seasons) of 60 and has double-doubles in 50.4% of his 117 career games. … Bacot tied Duke’s Shelden Williams (2003-06) for ninth place in ACC career double-doubles. … It was Bacot’s 20th career game with at least 15 rebounds and 66th with at least 10 (extending his school record). … The 21-point win was the largest at Louisville, surpassing a 93–76 victory on Feb. 17, 2018. … UNC won its fourth consecutive game against Louisville, leads the series 19–7, including 10–4 since the Cardinals joined the ACC, and is 4–3 at Denny Crum Court. Carolina is 4–5 against the Cards in Louisville. … Louisville’s Brandon Huntley-Hatfield, a 6–10, 250-pound center who leads the Cardinals in rebounding (6.0 per game) and is fourth in scoring (7.5), missed the game with an undisclosed injury. … The Cardinals’ one 3-pointer was a season-low by a UNC opponent (the previous low was Indiana’s three).
UNC 80, Louisville 59
UNC lineup combinations
|No. 16 Miami||15–5||24–6|
|No. 13 Virginia||15–5||23–6|
|No. 25 Pittsburgh||14–6||21–10|
Duke 62, North Carolina 57
No. 13 Virginia 75, Louisville 60
Georgia Tech 73, Boston College 65
Virginia Tech 82, Florida State 60
Syracuse 72, Wake Forest 63
No. 26 Miami 78, No. 25 Pittsburgh 76
Clemson 87, Notre Dame 64
End of regular season
|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. 1 Alabama
|ACC/Big Ten Challenge|
|30||Wednesday||L, 77–65||No. 21 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. 14 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||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||No. 12 Duke||Durham||15–8, |
|7||Tuesday||L, 92–85||Wake Forest||Winston-Salem||15–9, |
|11||Saturday||W, 91–71||Clemson||Home|| 16–9, |
|13||Monday||L, 80–72||No. 16 Miami||Home||16–10, |
|19||Sunday||L, 77–69||N.C. State||Raleigh||16–11, |
|22||Wednesday||W, 63–59||Notre Dame||South Bend, Ind.||17–11, |
|25||Saturday||W, 71–63||No. 14 Virginia||Home||18–11, |
|27||Monday||W, 77–66||Florida State||Tallahassee, Fla.||19–11, |
|4||Saturday||L, 62–57||No. 12 Duke||Home||19–12,|
|8||Wednesday||W, 85–61||Boston College||Greensboro||20–12|
|9||Thursday||L, 68–59||No. 14 Virginia||Greensboro||20–13|
Photo via @UNC_Basketball