The career of Rechon “Leaky” Black has so far been defined by one word: If.
First, the question was simply if he could stay healthy. As a first-year in 2018-19, the North Carolina wing missed 13 games with a sprained ankle — only after showing tantalizing flashes of his court vision, length and two-way versatility.
Then, the question became if he could develop a consistent outside shot. Black played 29 of 33 games last year but was just 25.5 percent from 3-point range and 35.2 percent from the field overall — tough pills to swallow given the quality of UNC’s season, but doubly frustrating considering a jump shot-hitting Black would be a bona fide NBA prospect given his other tools.
More generally, it was fair to wonder partway through this season if Black would ever be able to figure it out. In the first eight games of 2020-21, the junior guard was shooting 31.5 percent and struggling to find his place in the offense, which prompted head coach Roy Williams to bench the veteran against Georgia Tech on Dec. 30.
That, as they say, seemed to do the trick. Against the Yellow Jackets, Black was 5-7 from the floor for 10 points in his most efficient outing of the year.
Against Notre Dame a few days later, he had eight points and a leaning, double-clutch game winner with seconds left, sparing the Tar Heels an 0-3 mark in ACC play.
And in Tuesday’s matchup with Miami, Black notched a career-best 16 points in a 67-65 win, nailing four triples and gathering nine rebounds to again save North Carolina from a dispiriting conference loss. Taken together, the games mark the most impressive run of Black’s career in Chapel Hill.
A “Rechonaissance,” if you will.
“I think he was kind of pissed off at his play, and he definitely took it personally and changed the way he played (against Georgia Tech),” guard Andrew Platek said. “Which, major respect to him. If you don’t like the way you’re playing or the minutes you’re getting, it’s up to you to fix it. I think he did take it personally, and this is the best stretch I’ve seen Leaky play.”
It was Platek who made the play of the night, an in-traffic baseline floater with seconds left to take the lead and the game.
But there were times in both halves against the Hurricanes — not exactly defensive stalwarts themselves — when Black was North Carolina’s only offense. He has, count ‘em, just two games with multiple 3-pointers to his name, neither of which came this season. So imagine his team’s surprise when he hit a pair before halftime, helping UNC to a 32-30 advantage at the break, and a pair after halftime to remain in striking distance.
“This was the best game that he’s had shooting the ball from outside,” Williams said.
The Rechonaissance Man also took the lead in the huddle. After a timeout with three minutes left, Black had words of encouragement for his teammates: “I told them, ‘We’re playing the worst game we can possibly play right now, and we’re only down by four. Let’s just get one stop at a time and see what happens.’”
The Hurricanes had just four points the rest of the way.
Meanwhile, Black’s most crucial bucket came with less than two minutes to play, a wide-open corner triple to regain the lead.
It was the type of shot that the Leaky Black of old might have missed or even passed up, but not here, not this time. Instead, he stepped in with confidence and drilled the second-biggest shot of the game. The shot that saved UNC from another bad conference loss, yes. But also, perhaps, the shot that will set the stage for even more revitalizing play, something that the Tar Heels could very much make use of at this point in the season.
“I think it’s just confidence,” he said. “I don’t think we could play any worse than we did in the N.C. State game, or last year. You’ve just gotta have confidence. We needed to score some points, and I just felt like it was my night.”
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