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With performance against N.C. Central, Armando Bacot again proves his worth to UNC

UNC sophomore center Armando Bacot (5) looks to make a pass around NCCU redshirt senior guard C.J. Keyser (22) and senior guard Deven Palmer (5) during a game in the Smith Center on Saturday, Dec. 12, 2020. UNC beat N.C. Central 73-67

If there exists a former McDonald’s All-American who stands at 6-foot-10-inches, plays for one of college basketball’s premier blue bloods and somehow blends in among the whole of college basketball and his team — his position group, even — well, his name is Armando Bacot.

In a way, it makes sense. You’ve got Garrison Brooks, senior leader and Preseason ACC Player of the Year. Day’ron Sharpe, a five-star first-year who swallows up rebounds like a vacuum cleaner. Walker Kessler, a tantalizing 7-foot-1 talent with 3-point range.

And then there’s Bacot, the sophomore center who approached double-double records last season for North Carolina but has somehow gotten lost in the shuffle in 2020-21. He may not be the fourth-best player in the Tar Heel frontcourt, but he’s probably the fourth-most talked about.

So consider Saturday’s game against N.C. Central a reminder, intentional or not, of what Bacot means to this team. He paced the Tar Heels with 19 points and 11 rebounds, helping the team to a 73-67 win and showing the kind of lift he can give when No. 16 UNC isn’t exactly firing on all cylinders.

“He dominated today,” Sharpe said. “He was carrying us in the first half, just killing.”

North Carolina came out sluggish — an empty Dean Dome can do that to you — and trailed by as much as 11 early, sloppy with the ball and caught off guard by a frenetic zone defense. The Tar Heels coughed it up nine times before the half and were 0-7 from deep. Falling to the Eagles would’ve meant a third straight loss, coming after defeats against No. 17 Texas and No. 3 Iowa. 

Bacot, though, was unfazed. 

“We just knew we needed to stay steady, be composed and play Carolina basketball,” he said. “I mean, they came out there making some pretty crazy shots. They were just kind of on fire. We knew we had to keep doing what we were doing and pick it up a little bit more.”

The sophomore took it upon himself by scoring nine of his team’s last 13 points of the period, jumpstarting a stalled offense and helping UNC to a 30-28 lead at the break. His first-half statline: 15 points on 7-10 shooting and seven rebounds. No other Tar Heel had scored more than three.

“In the first half he was the only offense," head coach Roy Williams said.

Bacot described his role plainly as doing “whatever we need to do, whatever coach asks us to do: finish around the rim, get rebounds and block shots.” He did all of that in spades on Saturday, hitting six of his seven shots — including a pair of foul line jumpers — and gathering five offensive boards against the half-pint Eagles. That he only had four points in the second half is almost more proof of his background role: I got us back into it, you guys can take it from here. 

And it’s not that the numbers don’t back up Bacot’s importance to this team, either. He’s now tied for the team’s second-leading scorer at 11.2 points per game, a smidge behind Brooks’ 11.7, and leads UNC in rebounds at 8.8 per contest. He’s making 70 percent of his free throws, which is more than his frontcourt-mates can say. And he’s been consistent, having reached double-digits in five of six games this year.

So take Bacot’s most recent performance — and yes, his entire season thus far — as proof that he belongs at the beginning of any conversation about North Carolina’s packed frontcourt. A starting point, not an afterthought. 

If there’s any doubt left in your mind, just do what Bacot seems to do: let his play do the talking, and allow the rest of the chips to fall where they may.


@dthsports |

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