By R.L. Bynum
CHAPEL HILL — When Armando Bacot came out of the game with 20 seconds left, his first move after high-fiving teammates was to embrace Tyler Hansbrough. One North Carolina legend hugged another after Bacot surpassed Psycho-T to become the program’s all-time leading rebounder.
The record was an exclamation point on an impressive 80–69 Tar Heels victory Saturday over N.C. State at the Smith Center, their third in a row to snap the Pack’s four-game win streak. Carolina (14–6, 6–3 ACC) pulled into a tie for third place in the ACC, two games out of first place.
“He just told me he’s proud of me, just that I’ve been working hard,” Bacot said of that moment in front of Hansborough’s seat along the baseline. “That was great just to gain the respect of Tyler Hansbrough.”
Both were part of a postgame ceremony honoring Bacot’s achievement.
Bacot came in determined to break the record, sporting a Dennis Rodman tattoo that he added on Thursday to his right leg because he respects his rebounding and how hard he played.
After Bacot missed the record-breaker a couple of times, a miss by State’s Ebenezer Dowuona gave him another chance. When he pulled down history with 6:54 left, Bacot said there was a huge weight off his shoulder when he got that rebound.
“I got lucky; they missed a couple of shots, and then I got the last rebound,” said Bacot, who looked disappointed when he didn’t get the landmark rebound on the previous possession. “I was just trying to get that weight off my shoulder and I’m just happy.”
Bacot said that the next achievement on his list is a national championship.
He had nine rebounds in the first half but was concerned the record might not come when he picked up his second foul. Bacot wanted to stay in the game but also be aggressive.
RJ Davis (26 points, his fifth game with at least 20 points this season) and Bacot (23 points and 18 rebounds) carried the Tar Heels offensively, combining to go 13 of 21 from the floor for 49 points, while the rest of the team was 7 of 34 for 31.
Bacot set the school career double-double record at 61, passing Billy Cunningham’s total, in addition to passing Hansbrough’s rebounding total of 1,219 with 1,221 and counting. Bacot has double-doubles against 31 schools.
“Every day, be it practice, shootaround, game, you know that he’s gonna give his best on both ends of the floor for himself, for the team, for this program,” UNC coach Hubert Davis said of Bacot, marveling at the history he keeps making. “That’s just unbelievable. He’s a fantastic player. He’s one of the best players in Carolina history, and I’m really proud of him.”
Bacot, seventh in ACC history in double-doubles, took a Hansbrough elbow to his nose during a pickup game early in his career. Bacot said that he could have never imagined breaking his record back then.
“Definitely not,” Bacot said. “I’ve just been growing and growing as a player. Freshman year, I had a lot of tough struggles. I never gave up; Coach [Roy] Williams, Coach Davis, they all stayed on me, told me to work hard.”
When Walker Kessler and Day’Ron Sharpe came into the program, he didn’t worry about two future NBA big men taking his playing time.
“I just looked at it as a challenge, and that whole summer during the pandemic, I just worked my tail off and just kept working and working,” Bacot said. “I just got a lot better and it showed.”
Saturday, he had to battle 6–9, 275-pound D.J. Burns, who presented plenty of challenges and had 18 points but only three rebounds. Bacot said he couldn’t be as aggressive defensively once he got his second foul.
“He’s a crafty player. He’s huge, and he’s quick. It’s tough guarding guys like that,” Bacot said. “He did a good job all game of being aggressive and using his body. Next time we play them, we’ll have a different way of guarding him, and I’ll be ready.”
More important than the game’s outcome is Terquavion Smith’s condition. His mom posted on Facebook that he’s doing OK and wanted to know the score. On Sunday morning, N.C. State reported that X-rays were negative and he was released from UNC Medical Center.
He went down to the court hard, falling backward, after Leaky Black fouled him, leading to Black’s ejection for a flagrant 2 foul with 9:45 left. Black swung his arm toward the ball but got Smith’s forehead instead. Smith, who suffered an elbow and neck injury, left the arena on a stretcher, and headed to the hospital.
“You never want to see anybody get hurt or injured,” Coach Davis said of Smith. “He’s a fantastic player, and I didn’t like seeing that.”
Davis said that Black was very concerned about Smith and asked for his phone number so that he could contact him. N.C. State coach Kevin Keatts went to the hospital instead of riding on the team bus back to Raleigh.
“Prayers out to Baby T. Never like to see a guy get hurt,” Black posted on Instagram. “Hope he gets back on the court as soon as possible. Praying for him and a quick recovery.”
Two minutes after play resumed, State’s Casey Morsell appeared to whack Caleb Love in the face on a drive, drawing a flagrant 1 foul.
The officials — Bert Smith, Jeffrey Clark and Tommy Morrissey – left players guessing what would merit a foul, and lost control of the game in the second half. State had seven players with three or more fouls and UNC had four.
Love scored 13 of his 16 points in the second half.
UNC had a season-low six turnovers but only had five assists on 20 field goals, a season-low assist total in a league game (previous low was six assists on 24 assists at Virginia Tech.)
After the Tar Heels went 4 of 13 from 3-point range in the first half, they only attempted five shots outside of the arc in the second half, missing all of them.
“At the beginning of the game, I thought we took too many quick 3s. I love 3s. I really do,” said Coach Davis, pointing out that UNC came into the game as one of the best in the league getting to the free throw line and that State is one of the worst in that category. “After that first six or seven minutes in the first half, I thought we did a better job of putting our head down, penetrating, getting to the free throw line.”
It paid off as Carolina was 36 of 39 from the free-throw line. The Wolfpack didn’t miss from the line but only had 12 attempts. It was a UNC school-record free-throw percentage with at least 30 attempts at 92.3%, bettering the 91.9% against Syracuse (34 of 37) on Feb. 26, 2019.
Davis tied the third-most free throws without a miss in a game by a Tar Heel (York Larese hit 21 vs. Duke on Dec. 19, 1959, Phil Ford hit 16 at NC State on Feb. 24, 1976, and Davis joins Cole Anthony, who hit 14 against Boston College on Feb. 1, 2020, and Tyler Hansbrough, who had 14 against State on Jan. 7, 2006).
Unlike last season, Carolina had to deal with three dangerous Wolfpack perimeter scorers in Jarkel Joiner (18 points), Morsell (12) and Smith (12). With Black on Smith, Davis on Joiner and Love on Morsell, the Tar Heels did a better job defending as the game went on.
“They had three big guards that were gonna go one-on-one the whole night,” RJ Davis said. “We practiced just standing our ground.”
UNC jumped out to a 10–5 lead after a Pete Nance 3-pointer and two Davis free throws. N.C. State (15–5, 5–4) scored the next 13 points to take an 18–10 lead on Morsell’s 3-pointer with 10:02 left in the first half.
UNC scored 12 in a row, including a Black steal and dunk, to take a 24–20 lead on a pair of Davis 3-pointers and his two free throws with 6:19 left. Davis had 14 of the last 16 Carolina points with his layup two minutes later.
Jalen Washington’s free throw with 3.5 seconds left gave UNC a 34–33 halftime lead.
After four Bacot points pushed Carolina’s lead to five and five Terquavion Smith points tied it, the lead changed hands a couple of times before a 12–2 Carolina run. Two Black free throws gave UNC a nine-point lead. Nance’s driving dunk and Black’s layup made it 59–49 with 10:03 remaining.
Seven consecutive UNC points, all on free throws, pushed the lead to 66–53 with 6:09 left. D.J. Burns scored every Pack point on a 7–2 run to trim the lead to eight.
NOTES — Carolina plays at 9 p.m. Tuesday at Syracuse (ESPN). The Orange (13–7, 6–3) won at Georgia Tech 80–63 on Saturday for their third win in the last four games. … Puff Johnson didn’t play because of a sore knee. … This was the fourth consecutive Carolina-State game with both teams unranked, the longest streak in 17 seasons. The schools played four in a row with both unranked from Jan. 23, 2002, until Feb. 25, 2003. … UNC honored the 1993 national championship team at halftime. … Carolina’s fourth consecutive win over State and ninth in the last 10 meetings pushed the Tar Heels’ lead in the series to 164–79, including 81–23 in Chapel Hill and 30–7 in the Smith Center.
UNC 80, N.C. State 69
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