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Tuesday May 17th

'A change in effort': UNC men's basketball needs more sparks after 85-57 loss to Miami

Coach Hubert Davis instructs his players during a basketball game against Georgia Tech on Saturday, Jan. 15, 2022.
Buy Photos Coach Hubert Davis instructs his players during a basketball game against Georgia Tech on Saturday, Jan. 15, 2022.

With five minutes left in the UNC men’s basketball team’s 85-57 blowout loss to Miami, time stood still.

Trying to stop a drive from Miami’s Charlie Moore, junior big man Armando Bacot — the reigning National Player of the Week and undeniably UNC’s star player this season — got undercut and landed hard on his elbow and hipbone.

And all at once, everything stopped. It was like the most tragic painting Michelangelo ever painted — Bacot, first frozen, then writhing on the floor in pain; the trainer, sprinting to him in what looked like slow motion; his teammates, in awe at the sight before them; Moore, gearing up to take the foul shots he had just earned.

While Bacot was eventually able, with some assistance, to walk off the court and take a seat on the bench, for that moment, the question hits you — without a great performance from Bacot, what does this team look like?

Well, if Tuesday night was any indication, it's not pretty.

“Armando’s been tremendous for us this year,” sophomore guard RJ Davis said. “He's definitely a game changer. He impacts the game in many ways, not just on the offensive end, but also on the defensive end.”

Granted, Bacot finished the contest with 15 points and 12 rebounds, good for his eighth consecutive double-double. And granted, Bacot was able to walk off the court, with head coach Hubert Davis later saying that, beyond some soreness, his star would be okay — the Tar Heels probably won't be losing him.

But make no mistake, this was no vintage Bacot performance.

His 15 points were the lowest mark he's hit in the last eight games, since a 14-point outing against Furman on Dec. 14. Even then, none of those 15 points were easy to get. Every shot attempt, the Hurricanes were throwing the house at Bacot — sending double teams, triple teams and scrapping with him down low.

And while a 15-point double-double is never going to be shabby, it's certainly less than what the Tar Heels needed on Tuesday night.

"There has to be a change in effort," Hubert Davis said. "There has to be a change in competitiveness and want-to. I've always told them, and I told them tonight, that the game will change, but you have got to change."

Without having to worry about Bacot terrorizing the paint at every moment, the Hurricanes were able to dedicate more time to stopping the team's perimeter scorers. RJ Davis finished with nine points on 3-10 shooting, while sophomore guard Caleb Love finished with just five points on an abysmal 2-12 clip.

That relationship works both ways — if Bacot's game is on, the shooters get more space. If the shooters are on point, Bacot draws less attention.

"The way we're shooting the ball is just freeing me up even more and more," Bacot said after Saturday's win over Georgia Tech. "It just allows me to get more one-on-one plays, and I've just been playing even harder than I was."

It's hard to say that Bacot wasn't playing with effort against the Hurricanes — a double-double doesn't come out of nowhere — but it wasn't his best, and he's not always going to be at his best.

Like that scary moment near the end of the game showed, he sometimes might not even be in the game at all.

And in those moments, when their star isn't shining as bright as always, the Tar Heels will need to find a spark.

"We were prepared," Hubert Davis said. "We just didn't play, and that's the frustrating part, was that we were prepared. And at this moment, I'm just not sure why we didn't play."

@pjdaman12

@dthsports | sports@dailytarheel.com

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