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Heel Tough Blog: ACC Tournament Final - NC State Recap

Greg Flume - Getty Images

Last night, Carolina was denied their 19th ACC Tournament title, at the hands of their rival, the NC State Wolfpack, who completed a run of winning five games in five days, to win the ACC Tournament, and earn the automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. Carolina arrived in Washington D.C., and all the talk from R.J. Davis and Armando Bacot was about how much it would mean to them to win an ACC Tournament. While they both played well in the game, they didn’t have the help necessary to get the job done. 

Carolina led at the half, despite allowing State to shoot 57% from the field, and over 50% from behind the arc. It honestly resembled the same half we saw in Chapel Hill two weeks ago, when State got off to a hot start, and actually led by 8 before a ferocious rally in the second half, propelled Carolina to the win. But that second-half magic was nowhere to be found last night. After not being able to punch State in the mouth in the opening sequence of the second stanza, State was able to grab control of the game, and never look back, leading by as much as 11 on their way to the win. 

Carolina’s offense, which wasn’t great against Pittsburgh in the semifinals, wasn’t great last night, shooting 37% from the field, and 30% from behind the arc. Davis scored 30 points, but did so on 10-26 shooting, including 4-13 from behind the arc. Armando Bacot added 18 points and 12 rebounds, but needed more production, on a night where Harrison Ingram was the only other Tar Heel to reach double figures, scoring 10 points, but was 3-11 from the field. 

You wouldn’t have thought that State was playing their fifth game in as many days with the energy and effort they played. Carolina may have won the opening tip, but that was the only thing they won because, after that, they got outworked for every loose ball, and they weren’t the ones making the hustle plays. D.J. Burns was brilliant, scoring 20 points, on 9-12 shooting while handing out 7 assists. D.J. Horne scored 29 points, on 9-15 shooting, as in a lot of ways State’s two best players, thoroughly outplayed Carolina’s best players. 

History is on Carolina’s side in terms of NCAA Tournament success following a loss in the ACC Tournament. The Heels last won the conference tournament and national championship in the same season in 1982, before the NCAA Tournament expanded to 64 teams. But for two guys that openly talked about how much it would’ve meant to them to win a conference tournament title, you hate to see Carolina fall short, especially against their rival. Here’s what to takeaway from last night’s defeat: 

  1. Poor Defense: You aren’t going to win many games this time of the year when you allow 84 points, a team to shoot 57% from the field, and 43% from three. From the word go last night, Carolina never put any pressure on State, and they got into their action whenever they wanted. Kevin Keatts opted to isolate D.J. Burns on either side of the floor and allow the unique big man to operate their offense out of the post. After initialing double-teaming him in the first couple of minutes, Carolina would eventually play him straight up, but he got the better of Bacot, or whoever was on him. By the time Carolina opted to start pressing, it was in an effort to extend the game, as they were never able to take them out of any sort of rhythm from the jump. 

  2. Inefficient Offense: Carolina’s offense will need to be much better if they want to play deep into the NCAA Tournament, because you aren’t going to win many games shooting 37% from the field, and 30% from deep. Davis and Bacot were the only two that started the game with a pulse offensively, with Davis scoring 13 first-half points, and Bacot adding 8. Davis would finish the game with 30, and Bacot 18, but it wasn’t enough, because Carolina’s supporting cast wasn’t good enough. Ingram added 10 points, but was 3-11 from the field, including going 3-9 from deep. Elliot Cadeau, who really struggled after the quarterfinal win over Florida State, scored 4 points, on 2-8 shooting. Cormac Ryan added 8 points but was 2-7 from the field. All season long it’s been the defense that has fueled the offense, and last night was a great example of what happens to this team offensively when they aren’t getting stops. 

  3. Points in the Paint: Carolina only allowed 26 points in the paint last night, but the problem was that they only scored 22. After having so much success against the Pack inside in the two matchups in the regular season, Carolina wasn’t nearly as aggressive trying to get to the rim to generate their offense. They need to get back to playing inside out, whether that’s through Armando Bacot, or their guards penetrating the defense. 

  4. Fast Break Points: Carolina scored 19 points on the fast break last night, which makes you wonder, why Carolina never opted for the full-court press to make it an up-and-down game. When there were opportunities to run off misses they certainly did that, but with State over 50% from the floor, a lot of times they were taking the ball out of the basket. 

  5. Lack of Bench Production: In a game where Carolina got nothing from their starters outside of Davis and Bacot, you needed someone to step up off the bench, and that didn’t happen. For as good as Seth Trimble has been, he scored just two points last, in 16 minutes. Jae’Lyn Withers scored just points but did grab 6 rebounds in 11 minutes. And as for Jalen Washington, he also scored just 2 points but only played 6 minutes, as he’s not a good matchup for State’s trio of bigs. Those guys will need to produce more as we head into the NCAA Tournament. 

Up Next: It’s Selection Sunday, and tonight Carolina will learn their seed for the 2024 NCAA Tournament, their region, and of course their first opponent. The Selection Show starts at 6 PM on CBS.

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