Though finishing a paper after fulfilling his commitments as a college basketball player well past 11 p.m. may be a tall task, Bacot seems to perform better in do-or-die situations.
After all, he showed just that Wednesday night.
The Tar Heels trailed the Phoenix at halftime, 33-32, but came out with a different energy in the second half, largely thanks to Bacot setting the tone. On the first play after halftime, Bacot backed his defender down in the post before finding sophomore guard Leaky Black wide-open at the top of the arc for a three-pointer.
Black’s triple — made possible by Bacot’s playmaking — shifted the energy for UNC when it needed to do just that.
And Bacot carried the momentum from there, scoring 10 points in just under nine minutes. The former five-star recruit went a perfect 4-4 from the floor in the second half before missing a shot with 9:09 left in the game.
“I’ve just been trying to put an emphasis on listening to everything Coach says, and it’s been working,” Bacot said.
Head coach Roy Williams still expects more from his big man, though, calling Bacot’s play “soft” after the game. In the first half, Bacot scored just four points on 1-2 shooting. UNC looked to feed the ball inside early, but the first-year couldn’t capitalize — even against an Elon team whose two tallest players were only 6-foot-8.
“I told him he could’ve had 28 or 30,” Williams said of Bacot’s play.
First-year point guard Cole Anthony, who’s been the engine of the Tar Heel offense thus far, had an uncharacteristically poor performance. He finished one point and two assists shy of a triple-double, but shot just 4-14 from the field.
Unlike in the team’s previous three wins, Anthony’s performance alone couldn’t save UNC on this night. He credited Bacot for wearing that cape on Wednesday.
“He has a chance to become pretty much the other scorer on this team,” Anthony said. “We’ve been looking for someone else to put up numbers consistently. He has back-to-back double-doubles now. Armando, he’s been doing this since high school, and I’ve known this.”
It was never more evident that Bacot would be the Tar Heels’ hero than after an Elon triple that cut the North Carolina lead to seven points with 2:18 remaining.
During UNC’s next possession, Bacot corralled a missed three from graduate transfer guard Christian Keeling. Then, he took a power dribble in the paint, missed the shot that followed but beat the Elon defenders to the ball for a put-back layup.
Seconds later, after forcing the Phoenix into a turnover, Bacot hit another layup on an assist from junior forward Garrison Brooks.
The basket pushed North Carolina’s lead to 72-61 with 1:25 to go — and sealed the deal on the Tar Heels’ ugly victory.
As expected, the media scrum surrounding the first-year big man following the game was one of the largest for any UNC player. Bacot answered questions as briefly as he could, hoping to get back to his dorm as soon as possible.
Then came perhaps the question of the night regarding his unfinished paper: Why’d you wait til last minute?
“I was locked in,” Bacot promptly replied.
On Wednesday night, that much, at least, was evident.
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