In every game, there's a key objective — exploit the other team's weakness.
If you can expose that weakness, throwing it right back in your opponent’s face, you’re well on your way to victory. Sometimes, even their greatest strength can be turned into a weakness.
For the UNC men’s basketball team during its 88-65 victory over Georgia Tech on Saturday night, that weakness was Yellow Jackets guard Michael Devoe.
Devoe is one of the ACC’s best scorers, coming second in the conference with an average of 20.5 points per game. Though Georgia Tech had only won one conference game this season, a second win would probably come alongside a marquee scoring performance from Devoe.
So, what did UNC head coach Hubert Davis’ team do to stop Devoe? Simple: They smothered the life out of him.
“With a guy like Devoe’s who’s just so dynamic with his scoring, you really just gotta make him uncomfortable,” senior wing Leaky Black said. “You gotta know that he’s gonna score every now and then, but you gotta make him work for it and make it difficult, and that’s what I tried to do.”
“Tried” is an understatement from Black, almost as understated as his role on the team recently. By Davis’s own admission, Black’s role this season has been simple — guard the best offensive player on the opponent’s team. And while that mainly-defensive duty has led to him having no shot attempts in three separate games this year — though he did score on Saturday — its importance shined against a crafty scorer like Devoe.
With Black all over him, Devoe was frustrated and out of options. By the end of the first half, all he had to show for his efforts was a rebound and a foul — not a single point.
And by game’s end? Two points on 1-of-5 shooting, including missing every three-pointer he took.
“It’s just absolutely unbelievable,” Davis said. “(Black’s) an elite defender that can not only defend — he can distribute, he can take care of the basketball and he’s a huge reason for us becoming the team that we want to become.”
It’s hard to overstate how important Devoe’s performance would’ve been for this game. He’s had elite performances this season to the tune of 37 points against Georgia, 33 against Wisconsin and 25 against USC. A game like that would’ve changed Saturday’s dynamic entirely.
But that’s not what happened. Instead, by the time Devoe hit his only bucket of the game with about 13 minutes left, UNC already had a 59-38 lead.
“We knew Leaky wouldn’t really get a breather today,” junior big man Armando Bacot said. “He did an amazing job, and that really helped us because a lot of their offense is through Devoe, so taking him out made it a lot easier for the rest of us.”
In the dying embers of the first half, Devoe looked like he had a chance to open his scoring account with a clear lane to the basket.
Instead, right as Devoe’s drive reached the cup, junior transfer forward Justin McKoy came up from behind and shut it down, taking the ball back for the Tar Heels. Even if Black wasn’t there, nobody was letting Devoe do his thing around the rim.
“It’s really hard to block his shot because you never know what he’s doing,” Bacot said. “That was a big-time play by Justin, and I feel like, going into the half, that gave us a lot of momentum.”
For its part, the offensive side of the team was explosive. Bacot had another career performance, recording his seventh consecutive double-double with 29 points and 12 rebounds. Sophomore guard RJ Davis bounced back from a cold shooting performance against Virginia by going 8-of-11 from the field for 21 points, along with five rebounds and six assists. Without that kind of strong Tar Heel scoring, this game could’ve been different.
But for the most part, those guys didn’t have to worry about guarding the most dangerous Yellow Jacket on the floor. Shut down Devoe — use that key, exploit that weakness — and the path becomes wide open.
“When they were going up against our set defense, I thought we did a really good job defensively,” Davis said. “All of us, not just Leaky. I was very, very proud of them on the defensive end.”
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