Day’Ron Sharpe. Bread. Armando Bacot. Butter.
That was the pairing that ensured the North Carolina men’s basketball team would eat well on Saturday afternoon, a rivalry rematch against N.C. State that ended in a 86-76 UNC win.
The Tar Heels duo combined for 33 points and 18 rebounds against the shorthanded Wolfpack, helping their team to a fifth win in its last six games and showing off the dominant frontcourt that’s been touted all season long.
The smaller N.C. State came into the game needing to out-shoot the Tar Heels — while holding firm in the paint — to sweep its rival for the first time in the regular season since 2002-03. Instead, the Wolfpack shot a pedestrian six of 18 from long range, while UNC won the rebounding battle 44-30 and amassed 48 points in the paint. That was mostly thanks to Bacot, who was an efficient 8-12 from the field, and Sharpe, whose outing came thanks to a surprising discovery: the 6-foot-11 forward is, in fact, tall.
“I think I’m starting to understand that I’m a big guy,” Sharpe said. “I look at myself sometimes like, ‘I’m not that big,’ but then my teammates tell me, ‘You big, bruh.’ So I’m starting to realize that.”
That revelation preceded a 12-point first half from Sharpe, matching Bacot’s output before the break. The Tar Heels took a 43-33 lead into halftime and never looked back, staving off a late Wolfpack rally to move to 5-3 in ACC play.
“I just knew coming out I had to be aggressive,” Bacot said. “They kind of weren’t respecting us, just them backing off so hard (in the paint). So I just took it to them, and then backed up and shot the jump shots, and they had to respect it a little bit.”
Bacot did just enough from outside to keep his undersized defenders off-balance, again proving he has the deftest touch of any UNC big man on roster. Head coach Roy Williams noted Bacot has simplified his game as of late — becoming more efficient with his movements and more straightforward with his approach, to great effect.
Sharpe, meanwhile, was a force, swallowing up a team-high 10 boards and slamming putback dunks, laying the groundwork for the Tar Heels’ inside attack.
“Nobody can really guard him one-on-one with his back to the basket, he’s such a big guy,” Bacot said. “Him staying aggressive, and me staying aggressive, it’s definitely helped us.”
Williams is confident that both Bacot, a sophomore, and Sharpe, a first-year, will one day be “big-time players.” And they certainly played the part on Saturday.
For North Carolina fans, though, it’s more tantalizing to think of what they could become: dominant frontcourt mates a la John Henson and Tyler Zeller, Sean May and Marvin Williams, James Worthy and Sam Perkins: the foundation of most every Tar Heel title contender.
Those expectations have mostly faded away for this season. But it’s not hard to imagine a future — barring early exits to the pros — where Bacot and Sharpe form the core of a special North Carolina team, one with the size and talent to simply overwhelm lesser teams and the tried-and-true inside-out style that Williams has historically favored.
Bread and butter, indeed.
“Shooting the ball inside is something that should be important for us, because we have guys that I have confidence in,” Williams said. “Eight for 12 and eight for 13 (shooting) for the two guys that did the best work today — I think it’s important.”
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