PARADISE ISLAND, Bahamas – In Thursday's 73-64 loss to Michigan, Armando Bacot played the second-least minutes of any game this season: 22.
The first-year forward went three for 10 from the field against the Wolverines and had season lows in both offensive and defensive rebounds, excluding the injury-shortened three-minute outing he had against UNCW.
But on Friday, it was the young Bacot who led the No. 6 North Carolina men’s basketball team to a 78-74 victory over the No. 11 Oregon Ducks in the third-place game of the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament.`
The six-foot-10 newbie dominated in just about every category that he could. He posted a career-high 23 points — which he achieved by sinking seven of nine field goal attempts and going nine for 10 from the free throw line — to go along with 12 rebounds and six blocks. It all came in 31 minutes on the court, the most he’s ever played as a Tar Heel.
“Yesterday, I felt like I got my butt whooped,” Bacot said. “I feel like the main reason why is because I wasn’t really listening to what Coach was telling me. Today, coming into the game, I knew I just had to make everything simple.”
It was Bacot's simple dunk on the fast break that put the Tar Heels up 10 with 5:12 to play, and UNC was able to survive the ensuing Oregon run to escape with a win.
With the victory, head coach Roy Williams passed former Kentucky head coach Adolph Rupp with 877 all-time wins, good for fifth all-time. After being disappointed in Bacot's game on Thursday, Williams said the forward was "sensational" on Friday.
“I’ve always thought Armando had a chance to be a great player,” Williams said. “This was by far his best game of the year. The rest of them weren’t even in the same stratosphere as this one today.”
Along with Bacot, two other Tar Heels put up double-digit points. Senior guard Brandon Robinson earned nine of his 13 points from beyond the three-point line, and said he credits much of the Tar Heels’ defensive success on Friday to Bacot.
The first-year's six blocks were the most by a Tar Heel since Brice Johnson’s eight in the first round of the 2016 NCAA Tournament.
“There were a couple times when Armando saved me,” Robinson said. “A guy got by me, and drove into the basket, Armando came over and blocked the shot. So we appreciate him.”
Cole Anthony, who posted 19 points on 6-13 from the field, had an impressive block of his own. The first-year guard skied to deny a Michigan player at the rim late in the first half.
Bacot said the play was “vintage Cole,” and Robinson joked about Anthony being seemingly unaware of just how high he jumped.
“It was kinda funny,” Robinson laughed. “Because when we came out at halftime, he came over to me asking me, ‘Did I get up high on my block?’ and I was like, ‘Yeah man, you got way up there.’”
With both Tar Heel rookies impressing on the defensive end against the Ducks, Anthony said Bacot is only going to continue to learn and improve.
“He’s just really learned how to make an impact on the game and leave his imprint in the game,” Anthony said. “Now he’s not just rebounding, not just blocking the occasional shots. He’s finishing his side, he’s battling, he’s moving his feet.
"He’s doing everything we need him to do and more.”
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