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Heel Tough Blog: Alabama Recap (NCAA Tournament Sweet 16)

Updated: Mar 30

FOX 5 San Diego

So last night wasn’t a bad dream or a nightmare huh? This is the part of the job that stinks sometimes. Carolina arrived in Los Angeles, looking to advance to the Elite Eight, and hopefully the Final Four. Still, neither will be happening, after Carolina fell to Alabama, 89-87, in the Sweet 16, to end a fun, 2023-24 season. Carolina raced out to a 54-46 halftime lead, despite R.J. Davis scoring just two points. The Tar Heels were able to build the halftime lead because they knocked down 10 first-half threes, the most in a half since a game at Florida State back in 2023. Those shots would go away in the second half though, as Carolina was 2-16 from deep in the final 20 minutes, highlighted by R.J. Davis going 0-9 from deep. Alabama was able to get production from four of their starters, including Grant Nelson, who scored a game-high 24 points and was 10-13 from the foul line.  Before last night, Nelson had scored 6 points in the previous two tournament games. 

Execution down the stretch had been something that at times, Carolina excelled at, and at other times, failed to meet the moment, and unfortunately last night, they failed to execute as the game drew to an end. When you’re up 3 with 90 seconds left, you should be able to control the way the game finishes up, but that was not the case. Jae’Lyn Withers took as inexcusable a three that any Tar Heel not named R.J. Davis took all season long and led it an and-one for Nelson on the other end. With 30 seconds left to go, Davis was unable to create a shot for himself, leading to a shot clock violation, and ultimately, handing Carolina a season-ending loss. In the second half, Carolina scored just 33 points, and shot 25% from the field, a far cry from what they were able to produce in the first half. 

This loss is going to hurt for a long time for many different reasons. As of right now, we know that last night was the final game for both Armando Bacot and Cormac Ryan. It very well could be the final game for R.J. Davis and Harrison Ingram, if they opt not to return for 2024-25. Here’s what to take away from last night’s season-ending defeat: 

  1. Thank You Armando Bacot: In what was Bacot’s last game as a Tar Heel, he produced his 87th double-double, tying a record set by Tim Duncan for the most in ACC history. It was also his 8th NCAA Tournament double-double, tying him with Antwan Jamison for the most in UNC history. Bacot scored 19 points, and grabbed 12 rebounds, but missed a crucial dunk that could’ve given Carolina a five-point lead late in the second half. He was 8-18 from the field, as he struggled to score against Alabama’s double-team, but did enough to put Carolina in a position to win the game. Bacot may not have won a national championship, but he finishes his career as one of the most decorated Tar Heels ever, and will forever be loved by UNC fans around the world. 

  2. Off Night for R.J.: Davis had been brilliant for Carolina all season long, on his way to being named the ACC Player of the Year, and earning multiple first-team All-America honors. Last night though, he had a game he’d like to forget, going 4-20 from the field, and 0-9 from behind the arc. In a game that Carolina lost by two, came on the night where Davis failed to make a three-pointer for the only time this season.  He still scored 16 points in large part because he was 8-9 from the foul line. It’s hard to believe that Davis will go out that way, but only time will tell if he’ll opt to return for his super senior season. 

  3. Transition Defense: Alabama’s pace is real, and Carolina struggled with it all night long, even if Alabama is only credited with 8 fast break points. Every time that Carolina made or missed, Alabama was able to race the ball down the court, to get clean looks from the perimeter, where they were 11-26 from deep, or good looks at the rim. 

  4. Rotations: A lot of criticism for the way Hubert Davis handled his rotation in the second half, as he opted to play Paxson Wojcik over the likes of Seth Trimble and Elliot Cadeau. Wojcik was +13 in the first half, which earned him minutes over Cadeau, who played just 13 minutes for the entire game. Trimble, was a non-factor in the second half, even after making multiple perimeter shots. Trimble was Carolina’s best defender all season long but was nowhere to be found, while guys like Sears and Nelson, dominated the game at various different times. This will be a game that Hubert Davis will play back in his head many different times. In the moment, Wojcik had earned the right to be on the floor, but on the other hand, they needed Cadeau’s quickness and Trimble’s athleticism on the floor. 

  5. LA Sucks: Carolina is now 5-7 in Los Angeles all-time, and they are 0-2 in the NCAA Tournament in Arena 

Up Next: Carolina will now turn their attention to the transfer portal as they’ll begin filling out their roster for the 2024-25 season. They will await the decisions of Davis and Ingram and multiple role players off the bench.

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