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Wednesday February 8th

Despite blowout loss to Duke, Brady Manek proved his dedication to UNC's success

Duke first-year forward AJ Griffin (21) moves past UNC graduate forward Brady Manek (45) during a UNC men's basketball game against Duke in the Dean Smith Center on Saturday, Feb. 5, 2022. Duke won 87-67.
Buy Photos Duke first-year forward AJ Griffin (21) moves past UNC graduate forward Brady Manek (45) during a UNC men's basketball game against Duke in the Dean Smith Center on Saturday, Feb. 5, 2022. Duke won 87-67.

As graduate forward Brady Manek trudged to the table for his postgame media interview, his forlorn look told the entire story.

It was the look of a man who had just put up one of the best performances of his Tar Heel career, giving his everything for nearly all 40 minutes of Saturday's men’s basketball home matchup against his team's fiercest rival, the No. 9 Duke Blue Devils.

It was also the look of a man who, despite his best efforts, just saw his team get blown out on its home floor, losing 87-67 in what was arguably the Tar Heels’ toughest match of the year so far.

He was drained, exhausted.

A transfer from Oklahoma, Manek hasn't even been in Chapel Hill for a whole season. And against a top-10 Duke team, the Tar Heels escaping Saturday with a win was highly unlikely, nigh impossible.

But watching Manek play made those things fade into the rearview.

Against the toughest opponent, he was a man who wanted it.

“He was the one guy that I felt like, at the beginning of the game, he wasn’t nervous,” head coach Hubert Davis said. “That’s coming from somebody where this is the first time they’ve played in a type of game like this. He was poised, he was confident out there on the floor.”

In a game that got very ugly very early, Manek’s poise and confidence were essential. He scored 15 of UNC’s 28 first-half points, eventually finishing the game with 21 points on 7-16 shooting. His six 3-pointers tied for the most any Tar Heel has made this season.

At one point in the first half, UNC trailed 31-8. With Manek’s scoring and high-energy play, the team was able to enter halftime down just 11.

But it just wasn’t enough. Duke forward AJ Griffin opened the second period with a scoring barrage to bring the Blue Devil lead back to the 20s, and UNC just couldn’t come back.

As Manek sat in front of the cameras after the game, his personal performance seemed to be the last thing on his mind.

He wanted that win.

“It was a long game, it was a hard game,” Manek said. “We played the best we could and just didn’t come out on top. Didn’t execute well, didn’t get stops, but we all definitely played hard.”

After four years as a Sooner, Manek left Norman for a different kind of opportunity — the chance to be a veteran scorer and voice of experience on a highly-talented UNC team under new management. It certainly wouldn’t be an easy task, but if Manek’s five games scoring 20-plus points this season prove anything, it’s that it was a task he was willing to take on.

He may have been new to this rivalry, but he certainly knew how to give his all when it counted — and against the Blue Devils, everything counts.

“He’s obviously a big time player,” senior forward Leaky Black said. “He’s a great offensive weapon, he made some big shots. It just wasn’t enough.”

There are lots of reasons UNC lost on Saturday. Sophomore guard Caleb Love’s shot was off, junior big man Armando Bacot struggled in the paint against Duke center Mark Williams and Griffin had one of the best games yet with a career-high 27 points on 11-17 shooting.

Despite his high scoring numbers, even Manek’s game wasn’t perfect, with many of Griffin’s points being scored against the defense of the Harrah, Okla. native.

Sure, there are things Manek and the Tar Heels could’ve done differently. This was always going to be a hard game, and near-perfection would’ve been necessary to keep the score closer, especially in the second half. Hoping to win this one was just that — hopeful.

But even so, Manek wanted that win.

“It was the same thing we always talk about,” he said. “Just gotta come out and play hard and hit them first, and they did it again. They shot it well, they played well at the start of both halves, and kinda knocked us off what we were working towards.”

@pjdaman12

@dthsports | sports@dailytarheel.com

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