The North Carolina men’s basketball team found itself in another season defining moment on Monday night.
After just one day of rest and playing almost 39 minutes without either team establishing a comfortable lead, the Tar Heels’ fitness and desire were tested against Louisville — one lapse could have put an end to their NCAA Tournament chances.
With 1:40 left in the game and the Tar Heels only up by one, sophomore guard RJ Davis drove into the paint and found a cutting Brady Manek under the rim. The graduate transfer forward spun in the air before tossing it over to junior Armando Bacot for an emphatic slam.
On UNC’s next offensive possession, sophomore guard Caleb Love dribbled past three Louisville defenders for an easy layup.
Just like that, the Tar Heels had a five point lead — their largest of the half — and enough left in to escape the Dean E. Smith Center with a 70-63 victory.
A short rotation forced every North Carolina starter to play over 30 minutes in its past two games. Love played the most out of them, racking up a combined 79 minutes with only one day in between matchups.
“I kind of settled because I was tired,” Love said.
While more atypical in the regular season, this is how games will be spaced out in March. There’s little time to collect yourself and minimal chances of rest. But they’ll likely need team efforts like that to have any chance of making an NCAA Tournament run.
“I guess it’s good we’re getting in these types of situations now and especially for March, so we’ll be more composed,” Bacot said. “We had a few lapses, but all this stuff is just character building for us. We learn to just play together in these moments and to not panic.”