There were boos raining from stands. Ice got tossed on the court. A coach slammed his hand onto the scorer's table.
The closing minutes of the North Carolina men’s basketball team’s 90-83 victory against Louisville were a mess. But in the end, the Tar Heels came out of the chaos with a victory, finally breaking their month-long road drought thanks to their resilience and the play of their upperclassmen.
“It was a crazy atmosphere,” junior forward Armando Bacot said. “It was probably one of the most intense games I’ve ever played in, especially towards the end.”
UNC came out sizzling in the second half, going on an early 9-0 run. It seemed like the game was trending towards a comfortable victory for UNC, until a 3-point barrage from Louisville ensued.
In just under seven minutes of play, the Cardinals drained seven triples to turn a 48-39 UNC lead into a two-point Louisville advantage. The game was about to get away from UNC, until the stabilizing force of forward Brady Manek kept the team in it.
The graduate transfer scored four consecutive baskets after trailing for the first time in the second half after the sixth three-point shot during Louisville’s scoring frenzy. He knocked down a beyond-the-arch shot of his own, got open in the paint for a dunk and got two jumpers to fall.
He helped the team get back up after taking a massive punch.
“We are tough,” Manek said. “Everyone calls us soft. Everyone says on the road, we can’t win.”
The Tar Heels battled their way back and seemed to have sealed the game away after a 3-pointer from sophomore guard RJ Davis and a huge and-one layup from Bacot. All sophomore point guard Caleb Love had to do was dribble the clock down and draw a foul.
But then, Louisville defender El Ellis snuck behind Love and poked the ball free for an open layup. Suddenly, the game was deadlocked at 74.
When overtime came, Love bounced back and knocked down a three to give his team an early lead.
“There were times when we really messed up, but it didn’t bleed into the next possession,” head coach Hubert Davis said. “We just moved on.”
It was a clutch triple from senior forward Leaky Black that finally gave North Carolina a lead it didn’t relinquish. The senior got open in the corner and swished in the shot to finish a season-high 13-point night.
“He’s just been our sounding board,” Hubert Davis said. “He doesn’t say a lot but the way that he carries himself calms RJ and Caleb down, even Armando and Brady. He’s just a calming presence out there on the floor and in the huddle.”
After Black’s basket, the game turned chippy.
Players were pulling arms, grabbing legs and falling to the ground. The referee's whistle helped UNC ice the game, causing the outraged spectators to ice the court from their seats. The Tar Heels were able to make the free throws needed to escape the KFC Yum! Center with a rare road victory — their first since Jan. 2.
Unlike the collapses seen in their previous road games against Miami and Wake Forest, North Carolina responded when its opponent went on run and ultimately pulled out a gutty win.
Now, it awaits Duke and a chance to get its first win of the season against a team currently ranked in the AP Top 25 poll.
“Tonight, we flipped the switch and we hit them back," Manek said. "And I just can’t be more proud of these guys. It was an awesome game.”
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