A night of missed chances and facing tough reality for Tar Heels

By R.L. Bynum

CHAPEL HILL — There was plenty of frustration from Carolina’s Armando Bacot after what could have been his last game at the Smith Center ended with so many missed opportunities.

The resignation to the Tar Heels’ plight after their 62–57 loss Saturday to Duke was evident on his face, knowing that it will probably take four wins next week at the ACC Tournament to guarantee they make the NCAA field.

“We’ve just going in with a mindset [that] we’ve just got to go win,” said Bacot, who said that he never thought his team would be in this position. ”It’s just something we have to do. We really don’t have a choice.”

The Tar Heels (19–11, 11–8 ACC) couldn’t make the big shots at the end or get enough stops in the final minutes against the Blue Devils (23–8, 13–7). UNC shot a season-low 30.4% for the game and the 26.7% shooting in the second half was the lowest in a second half this season.

“They made more plays than us,” said Bacot, who collected 17 points and 11 rebounds. “All game, we played solid defensively, but then they went to that high ball screen. It’s kind of hard because we’d hedge and then [Jeremy] Roach gets around it and they put us in a pinch. It was just tough at the end.”

The outside noise was deafening when Carolina was the preseason No. 1 team, and that put plenty of pressure on Bacot and the rest of the team. Now the Tar Heels face different pressure when they play either Boston College or Louisville on Wednesday, likely needing four wins.

“It was definitely difficult just because it was so much expectations,” Bacot said. “Pressure can get to everybody. We’re human.”

UNC coach Hubert Davis says he isn’t buying the “narrative” that his team has to win four games.

“My focus is on Wednesday,” he said. “I think it is important to focus on what is real and ahead of us. That is a game at 7 o’clock on Wednesday and that is where my focus is. I feel good about our team. I told them in the locker room that even though I was very sad, that I wasn’t done at all in terms of my confidence in what kind of team that this could become. My confidence in this team is not going to waver at all.”

Bacot’s dunk to start the game drew the highest decibel levels at the Smith Center all season as UNC scored the game’s first five points. Carolina started the game with huge energy, but not with much efficiency.

Duke responded with a 13–4 run to take a four-point lead on a pair of Kyle Filipowski free throws with 11:23 left in the first half, and UNC didn’t lead again until midway through the second half.

“I think it really just boils down to us really hitting shots,” Bacot. “That’s what we’ve really got to do. I mean, we’re missing shots around the rim, 3-point shots. It’s hard to win a game like that.”

Carolina made only six of 18 layup attempts in the game.

RJ Davis hit some big shots with 17 points and was 3 of 5 from 3-point range. But the rest of the team was 2 of 18.

“I don’t think we made enough plays in the last few minutes,” Davis said. “We had good looks. The shots weren’t falling. We attacked the offensive glass. Sometimes the ball just didn’t bounce our way. But the effort was there.

“It’s definitely low right now just because of the type of game it was,” RJ Davis said. “It was senior night against our rival so it’s definitely something that we’re taking in right now. We just go into that ACC Tournament with a clear mindset, 0-0 for us record-wise. And, you know just play ball, play together.” 

Bacot drew Dereck Lively’s third and fourth fouls in the first three minutes of the second half, but a Filipowski dunk pushed Duke’s lead back to six with 15:42 left. But with Filipowski on the bench, UNC tied it at 43 with 12:17 left with an RJ Davis 3-pointer after layups from Love and Bacot.

Three-pointers from Davis and Nance capped a 13–2 UNC run to give the Tar Heels a four-point lead, their biggest lead since the game’s opening minutes. However, after Lively tied it at 49 on a jumper with 7:23 left, the lead repeatedly changed.

Two Bacot free throws put UNC up one with 1:57 left. Duke retook the lead on a pair of Filipowski free throws before Roach’s drive gave the Blue Devils a three-point lead with 48 seconds left.


RJ Davis came up empty on a drive with 19.7 seconds left and Love missed a potential game-tying 3-pointer with eight seconds left.

“We called a play that gave us an option for two looks to attack the basket and two looks on both sides to get a three,” Coach Davis said. “I felt like they defended it really well and we just didn’t get a clean look off of that shot.”

Pete Nance said of the final play: “It was a play we usually run. I think they did a good job of blowing it up a little bit with the hand-off between Caleb and RJ. But, that happens, so credit to them for playing good defense.”

Carolina tied it on a Love three-point play with 5:03 left in the first half, but a Filipowski three-point play 97 seconds later gave Duke its biggest first-half lead at six. UNC ended the first half with a 6–2 run, as Bacot’s inside bucket cut the Blue Devils’ halftime lead to 33–31.

“I wouldn’t say it was consistent with the first Duke game over Durham,” Coach Davis said. “I would say it’s probably more consistent with the close losses that we’ve suffered this year. Very frustrating. It really is. At the end of the day it comes down to making plays.”

Because of three Nance fouls and Puff Johnson turning his right ankle seven minutes into the game (he returned in the second half), Coach Davis made a season-high number of first-half substitutions.

In the first half, Tyler Nickel played four minutes after not getting into the previous two games and D’Marco Dunn played five after not playing at Florida State. Justin McKoy started because of senior night but also played later in the first half.

Filipowski finished with 22 points and 13 rebounds for his 14th double-double of the season. Tyrese Proctor added 13 points.

NOTES — Carolina is 6–2 when holding opponents under 40% from the floor, both losses against Duke. The Blue Devils shot 38.7% at Duke and 37.9% on Saturday. … Carolina’s 57 points tied the season-low total it put up on Feb. 4 at Duke. … Bacot passed Michael Jordan for 14th in UNC scoring with 1,795 points. … Leaky Black, who collected nine points and eight rebounds, played in his 153rd career game, breaking Deon Thompson’s school record total of 152. He played in only four seasons. Nate Britt and Isaiah Hicks are next on the list with 151 games. … UNC wore the late 1960s, early 1970s throwback uniforms. … Duke finished off a sweep of the regular-season meetings for the first time since 2019–20 when the Blue Devils won 98–86 in overtime in Chapel Hill and 89–76 in Durham. … Carolina leads the series 143–117, including 65–39 at home and 20–18 in the Smith Center.

Duke 62, UNC 57

UNC lineup combinations


ACC standings

No. 16 Miami15–524–6
No. 13 Virginia15–523–6
No. 25 Pittsburgh14–621–10
N.C. State12–822–9
North Carolina11–919–12
Wake Forest10–1018–13
Boston College9–1115–16
Virginia Tech8–1218–13
Florida State7–139–22
Georgia Tech6–1414–17
Notre Dame3–1711–20

Saturday’s games
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

ACC Tournament

Greensboro Coliseum

Tuesday’s first round
No. 13 Georgia Tech 61, No. 12 Florida State (9–23) 60
No. 10 Boston College 80, No. 15 Louisville (2–19) 62
No. 11 Virginia Tech 67, No. 14 Notre Dame (11–21) 64
Wednesday’s second round
No. 9 Wake Forest 77, No. 8 Syracuse (17–15) 74
No. 5 Pittsburgh 89, Georgia Tech (15–18) 81
No. 7 North Carolina 85, Boston College (16–17) 61
No. 6 N.C. State 97, Virginia Tech (19–14) 77
Thursday’s quarterfinals
No. 1 Miami 74, Wake Forest (19–14) 72
No. 4 Duke 96, Pittsburgh (22–11) 69
No. 2 Virginia 68, North Carolina (20–13) 59
No. 3 Clemson 80, N.C. State (23–10) 54
Friday’s semifinals
Duke 85, Miami (25–7) 78
Virginia 76, Clemson (23–10) 56
Saturday’s championship
Duke (26–8) 59, vs. Virginia (25–7) 49

(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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