For the 21st time in program history, the North Carolina Tar Heels are heading to the Final Four. The amazing tournament run of 2022 lives on after a 69-49 victory over the 15-seeded darling of the tournament, the Saint Peter’s Peacocks. The win now sets up the doomsday scenario that most Tar Heel fans were hoping would never present itself, a meeting between the Heels and Duke in the tournament.
The Tar Heels jumped on the Peacocks early, racing out to a 9-0 lead and putting together another 9-0 run later in the half in another dominant first half in a tournament that has been full of them. Caleb Love got off to a strong start following the huge second half performance in the Sweet 16, dropping 12 points on 5/12 shooting and Brady Manek added 10 points in what finished as a solid shooting half for the team after a slow start. Armando Bacot had the best first half of anyone, though, finishing with 8 points and 15 rebounds in a half where he simply dominated the Peacocks inside. The Tar Heels took a 38-19 lead into the halftime break, the biggest lead of any team at halftime of the weekend.
Bacot carried that first half success into the second half, as he paced the Tar Heels with 12 second half points and added seven more rebounds to finish the night with 20 points and 22 rebounds on the night, leading the way in both categories. The Tar Heels had another solid half offensively despite only finishing with ten made field goals, but the Tar Heel defense was just as dominant in the second half as they were in first, holding the Peacocks to 38% shooting from the field and never letting the lead get closer than that 19-point margin at halftime. This was as dominant a performance as you could have hoped for as the Tar Heels’ magical ride continues.
Hubert Davis: This magical run continues to solidify what has become a historic first season as the head coach of the Tar Heels for Davis. He becomes the ninth coach in NCAA history to take a team to the Final Four in his first season and the first since Bill Guthridge did so with the 1998 Tar Heels. It is amazing to think just how quickly the narrative on Hubert Davis has shifted in just the past month.
Armando Bacot: The narrative has been the same with Bacot for the entire season and he added yet another dominant performance in this one. His 20 point, 22 rebound performance gives the Tar Heel big man his 29th double-double of the season, which ties him with Tim Duncan for the most all-time in ACC history. His 22 rebounds ties a Tar Heel tournament record for rebounds in a game with Tyler Zeller’s 22 rebound night against Ohio in the 2012 Sweet 16. This is only Bacot’s second 20-20 game of the season, joining his 29 point, 22 rebound performance against Virginia back in January. Bacot’s performance helped him reel in the Most Outstanding Player in the East Region award, as well.
Rebounds: Bacot was a major difference maker here, but the Tar Heels as a whole dominated the glass as expected against the Peacocks. The Tar Heels finished with a +16 rebounding margin, the largest such margin for the team in the tournament and the biggest overall since February 26th’s meeting with NC State where the Tar Heels were +21 on the glass.
Defense: The Tar Heels' defensive improvement has been a big part of their run and it was a big part of the team’s win tonight. For the second time in four games, the Tar Heels allowed less than 20 point in a half in the first half and they held the Peacocks to just 30.0% shooting from the field, the lowest percentage of the tournament for a Tar Heel opponent in the tournament. The 49 points were the least amount of points allowed by a Tar Heel team in the tournament since the 2008 Sweet 16 victory over Washington State where they won 68-47 in Charlotte.
Doomsday Matchup: This win means that the Tar Heels will head to New Orleans for the Final Four for another installment of the greatest rivalry in all of sports in a situation that has never been faced before. This will be the first meeting between the two sides in the NCAA Tournament and just the second postseason meeting of all-time between the two teams, the lone one coming back in the 1971 NIT semifinals. The two teams split the regular season series this year at one a piece with both teams going on the road and taking home double-digit wins.