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Presence of 1982 national championship team helps lift Tar Heels past N.C. State

UNC basketball legend Michael Jordan '84 hugs former head coach Roy Williams while the 1982 championship team is honored at the game against NC State at the Smith Center in Chapel Hill on Jan. 29, 2022. UNC won 100-80.

Over the last two years, you could be forgiven for shrugging your shoulders and bemoaning repeated weekend heartbreak at the Dean E. Smith Center as "just another Saturday in Chapel Hill."

From buzzer-beating losses, rivalry failures and scrounges for the hopes of NCAA Tournament scraps — the unquantifiable feeling that comes with being a part of a blue-blood program has, at times, felt absent from the Smith Center’s Carolina blue stands.

But on this Saturday, if only for a moment, it seemed to return.

The Tar Heels beat their crosstown rival and decades-old foe, N.C. State. Michael Jordan and members of the 1982 national championship team was celebrated at midcourt. With the game out of hand from the outset, slams and swishes still drew elation from the fans in attendance — even when the lead hovered around 30 points. 

At halftime, former head coach Roy Williams was honored, and he told the crowd a phrase that summed up the afternoon:

“North Carolina basketball is not about one person and certainly not one coach."

With head coach Hubert Davis now walking the sidelines, the combination of struggles from the last two seasons and bad losses scarring this one can make it easy to forget what UNC has been for decades.

Beyond the Tar Heels’ display of energy and cohesiveness on the court, UNC set season-highs in points, fast break points, threes made and tied its season-best in blocks.

Davis said the presence of the 1982 team had an impact on the Tar Heels.

“For our guys to be able to see them, and to see the bond that they’ve had for so many years,” he said. “I think it really encouraged them and gave them a great visual of what it’s like to be a team and what it means to be successful here at North Carolina."

Sophomore guard Caleb Love — who combined with fellow guard RJ Davis for 38 points and nine assists as the primary guard duo — said having Jordan in the stands served as inspiration.

After he knocked down his first shot, Love looked over and unintentionally made eye-contact with the six-time NBA champion. 

Love had never seen Jordan in person until today.

“It’s just crazy to see him there, he’s the greatest to ever play this game,” Love said. “To see him sitting on the sideline and watching us play good, it’s just inspirational.”

Success wasn’t just limited to the guards, either. The post duo of Armando Bacot and Brady Manek combined for 35 points in a dominant showing.

But it wasn’t just those moments, with North Carolina basketball legends sitting sideline and being honored at the midcourt logo, that were unique to this game.

The indescribable feeling of watching a blue-blood team seemed to return on Saturday, as the small things that had drifted off over the last two years shined through once again.

With a Wolfpack comeback all but impossible and the UNC scoreline drifting closer to triple-digits — a mark that gives fans the opportunity to buy two sausage biscuits for $1 from Bojangles the next day — each basket drew increasingly louder reactions from the stands. 

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When junior Jackson Watkins knocked down a free throw to get to the 100-point mark, the cheers were as loud as they had been all day. It was the first time North Carolina had scored 100 points at home since Feb. 5, 2019.

UNC has tougher tasks ahead, including a bout with title-contender Duke in the Smith Center next Saturday. But for now, this Saturday can stand on its own.

"Just another Saturday in Chapel Hill" has a new meaning once again.

“That’s an unreal experience, definitely one of the reasons to pull me here, with a game like that,” Manek, who transferred to UNC from Oklahoma this year, said. “That was a really fun game, we had a really good time out there and we all played really well.”


@dthsports |