Sans Bacot, North Carolina relied on Garrison Brooks and Justin Pierce, plus reserves Brandon Huffman (seven minutes) and Walker Miller (six).
On this particular night, it wasn’t enough. Not nearly.
And while the 69-year-old Williams was loath to make excuses – “We can’t feel sorry for ourselves,” he said. “It’s part of the game.” – it was hard not to wonder how Bacot, coming off of a career-high 23-point outing against Oregon, would have changed the game against the Buckeyes.
“He was starting to really turn a corner for us,” Pierce said. “He’s been good all year, but he was starting to become the player I know he can be. He dominated that Oregon game. He was the best player on the floor.
“To have an injury like this,” Pierce continued, “is a hard pill to swallow.”
Ohio State grabbed 13 offensive rebounds and earned 16 second-chance points on Wednesday. And without the rim protection provided by a Bacot, UNC gave up 45 points in the final 20 minutes, turning a two-point game at halftime into a laugher.
“He definitely would have helped us inside a lot with their two bigs,” guard Brandon Robinson said. “He played good for us while he was in there, so we definitely missed him. But as Coach always says, if somebody gets hurt, North Carolina is still gonna play. They’re not gonna stop the game.”
But it’s become increasingly difficult to ignore the M*A*S*H episode that is Tar Heel basketball at the moment. Williams himself admitted earlier this season that he had never before faced injury issues this serious.
First-year guards Anthony Harris and Jeremiah Francis have yet to play a minute in Chapel Hill, while Bacot will likely join Sterling Manley as the second big man to miss major time this season. Manley had surgery on his knee over the summer and hasn’t seen the court in 2019-20.
“I’ve never felt so sorry as I feel (right now),” Williams said when asked if he’s ever had a team this thin up front. “Whether it’s thin in the post, or whatever. I got no answers. It’s a frustrating feeling.”
It was the second time in a matter of minutes that Williams turned his pockets inside out and admitted, “I’ve got nothing.” After the loss, he was far from the only Tar Heel to take a slice of the blame.
“We gotta play better,” Robinson said. “We’ve gotta be more accountable. It’s not Coach’s fault, it’s our fault. We’re the ones out there playing.”
Pierce, meanwhile, relayed the message of assistant coach Steve Robinson in the locker room: “(The refs) aren’t gonna cancel the second half on us.”
Some fans, many of whom left before the final buzzer, probably wish they had. But now in the midst of a daunting part of their season – ACC foe Virginia looms on Sunday, then Gonzaga two games later – the Tar Heels could have to make do without Bacot for the foreseeable future.
“He’s a huge part of our team,” Pierce said. “No one can replace that. No one person can replace that.”
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