In the biggest home game of the season so far, Carolina rose to the occasion to take down rival NC State, 80-69 in front of a capacity crowd in the Smith Center. For the first time in some time, one of the oldest rivalries in the ACC had some juice, as State entered having won four straight games, and sat at 15-4 overall, and 5-3 in the ACC. Carolina, which had started the season preseason ranked #1, and the favorite to win the ACC, was 13-6 overall, and also 5-3 in the league, so not bad, but obviously underperforming considering expectations. With Carolina honoring the 1993 national championship team, you knew there was going to be a special atmosphere on hand for this one, and they were treated to a classic battle.
Carolina led just 34-33 at the break but used a steady dose of Armando Bacot, and R.J. Davis to build a double-digit lead, that State would never threaten. There was a sequence in the first half where it looked like the Pack was going to take control of the game, after they went on a 13-0 run, to take an 18-10 lead. Carolina responded with a 9-2 run of their own, and that’s when you knew this game was going to be highly contested. UNC only shot 37% from the field, but conversely held State to 42%, as Carolina turned in their best defensive performance of the season against a Power 5 team. The other night it was perimeter shooting that was the difference in the win over Boston College, tonight it was the foul shooting, as Carolina made a season-high 36 foul shots, on 39 attempts, meanwhile, State made all of their free throws, and attempted just 12.
Armando Bacot entered the game with a chance at multiple records, and he achieved just that as he broke the record for most double-doubles in Carolina history, and also passed Tyler Hansbrough for the most rebounds by a Tar Heel. Hnasbrough was on hand and would recognize Bacot for breaking the record, after the game. Bacot finished with 23 points, and 18 rebounds, as he continues to pave the way for his team.
There was a scary moment in the second half that saw Terquavion Smith leave the game on a stretcher, as Leaky Black fouled him on a fastbreak layup attempt. Black’s arm came through and hit Smith in the face, resulting in a flagrant 2 foul, and that meant Black was ejected from the game. A few moments later, on another NC State layup, Caleb Love caught an elbow to his face, which resulted in a flagrant 1 call against the Wolfpack, further proving that even though Roy Williams may no longer be on the sidelines, there is no love lost between these two schools.
Today’s win resulted in a Quad 1 victory for Carolina, which will help their resume for the NCAA Tournament, but more importantly, it solidifies that even after a slow start, the Tar Heels are once again a force to reckon with in the ACC:
History for Bacot: Upon announcing his return for his senior season, Bacot mentioned that he wanted to leave a legacy at North Carolina, and no matter what happens the rest of the season, he’s definitely done that. I don’t think when Bacot committed to UNC, we would envision him setting multiple records during his time in Chapel Hill, and now that he has, he’ll be mentioned as one of the best post players to ever play at Carolina.
R.J. Davis: While Bacot got all the love for setting the records, Davis was arguably the best player on the floor today, scoring a game-high 26 points, on 5-8 shooting. Davis continued his improved perimeter shooting as of late, going 2-4 today, but did most of his damage from the foul line. R.J. was 14-14 from the charity stripe, as he was relentless in driving the basket and forcing the issue. He continues to prove that Carolina’s offense is at its best when he’s in control.
Free Throws: NC State entered the game among the better teams in the ACC in terms of not allowing their opponents to visit the free-throw line frequently. That wasn’t the case today, as they simply couldn’t guard UNC without fouling. Credit Hubert Davis for putting the emphasis on driving the lane, instead of settling for perimeter shots.
Defense: Carolina played as good of defense in any game against a Power 5 opponent today, as they have all season long. They limited State to 42% shooting overall, and just 5-17 from behind the arc (29%). Smith had scored 12 points before leaving the game but on 5-15 shooting. His backcourt mate, Jarkel Joiner scored 18 points, but he was only 6-18. DJ Burns was the only efficient Wolfpack player, scoring 18 points, on 8-13 shooting.
Rebounding: Led by Bacot, Carolina controlled the glass to the tune of 42-27, and that was another factor in the ultimate outcome. The Tar Heels grabbed 11 offensive rebounds, which turned into 13 second-chance points. As for State, they only managed 3 offensive rebounds and 4 second-chance points.
Continued Dominance: UNC is now 36-5 in the last 41 games against their in-state rival, and 53-12 over the last 30 seasons of the rivalry. Hubert Davis improved to 3-0 against NC State, as UNC’s head coach.
Up Next: Carolina is on the road on Tuesday, as they take on an improving Syracuse team at 9 PM on ESPN.
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