Deon Thompson, a senior and the team’s only returning starter, knew he had made a mistake more characteristic of a freshman.
After being whistled for a technical foul for shoving a Valparaiso player, Thompson headed to the bench for the last few minutes of the first half.
But when he came back out of the locker room after the break, Thompson’s inspired play was a big reason UNC won an uninspiring game.
Thompson wound up with 20 points on 8-of-14 shooting, eight rebounds, three assists and a bunch of hustle plays that didn’t make the score sheet.
He owed some of that effort to his guilt about the technical.
“I definitely don’t want to be a negative toward my team,” Thompson said. “That wasn’t something that I was aiming to do, so it definitely made me mad that I cost my team a technical.”
Thompson said UNC coach Roy Williams didn’t immediately say anything to him, but at halftime he pointed out that giving away two free points and the ball was a detriment, especially after the Tar Heels had just hit a three that could have swung some momentum their way.
He made up for the lapse in judgment in the second half, especially with his work on the offensive glass. Five of Thompson’s eight rebounds were off of UNC misses, and he put back a few.
Williams said out of the three UNC games this season, Sunday’s game was the most impressive performance by his senior forward.
“In the past, he might have had that adversity and not bounced back as well as he did today,” Williams said. “I thought he really did some good things in the second half.”
The Tar Heels had zero points off of offensive rebounds in the first half even though they had pulled down six offensive boards.
In the second half, they grabbed six more, but they converted them into 10 points. Thompson was a big reason why.
He also made all four of his free throws, while the team shot just 62 percent from the stripe.
“There’s no question that Deon, his effort tonight and his intensity, I think was a game-changing factor,” Marcus Ginyard said.
“The way that he played and the way that he showed a lot of heart out there, getting after the offensive rebounds and getting to the boards and scoring some big baskets for us.”
Thompson said the technical foul itself was not an intent to harm. He had become tangled up with a Crusader under the basket, and he said the shove was simply to get free of the Valparaiso player’s grasp.
“I was just trying to get him off of me,” Thompson said. “I wasn’t trying to swing at him or hurt him or anything like that.
“That was a bad play on my part. I’ve got to be smarter with my actions.”
Contact the Sports Editor at email@example.com.
To get the day's news and headlines in your inbox each morning, sign up for our email newsletters.