Say what you will about the Tar Heels.
Speculate all you want about Q1 wins and NCAA Tournament chances and unimpressive ACC competition.
The UNC men's basketball team’s 88-79 overtime win over Syracuse on Monday will certainly add fuel to those roaring fires — giving fans, haters and ESPN morning show hosts alike endless points of discussion.
Say what you will about this team.
But after Senior Night on Monday, it's hard to say those seniors didn't play their hearts out in their last game at the Dean E. Smith Center.
“Them coming up so huge on Senior Night, and it being an overtime thriller game, it was great, it was a lot of fun,” junior forward Armando Bacot said. “And they got to play a little bit of extra basketball in the Smith Center, so I guess it was great.”
In a game where Syracuse bolted out to a quick 9-0 lead and forward Cole Swider registered a monstrous 36 points, UNC needed every bucket it could buy — and Brady Manek was certainly selling them.
In his final home game, the graduate transfer forward led the team with 22 points on 9-18 shooting, including 3-6 from beyond the arc.
After clawing back to take a lead with about four minutes left in the first half, Manek caught a pass from sophomore guard Caleb Love inside and slammed it emphatically to put the Tar Heels up five.
It was one of many moments that night where the arena erupted for Manek.
“I wish we could’ve had him for a lot more years,” Bacot said. “What he’s done for us in this one year, he’s been so unselfish and he’s been a team guy. Y’all see the way he shoots the ball — he brings a different dynamic to the team.”
Though senior forward Leaky Black finished the night with eight points and seven rebounds and assists apiece, his play was just as clutch.
Black had to use some of his signature defense on both Swider and guard Buddy Boeheim, one of the ACC’s most dangerous scorers at 19.1 points averaged per game. And while Swider had a career night, Black held Boeheim to a modest 14 points on 5-13 shooting.
Black, who's left the door open on a return to Chapel Hill next year, may not have put up the offensive production to match Manek, but head coach Hubert Davis didn’t seem to care.
His biggest gripe? He couldn’t split him in half.
"I know that I’m their coach," Davis said. "But it’s just hard for me to find anybody — especially on the wing — that has done a better job defensively in this conference than Leaky."
Before the game, Davis talked to his team about the importance of Senior Night. He spoke about one of the great regrets of his UNC playing career: that, as a first-year in the 1988-89 season, he couldn’t give Jeff Lebo — now an assistant coach for North Carolina — a Senior Night win against Duke.
He wanted his young stars to want it as badly as he did all those years ago — and like their senior teammates, they played like they did too.
In the extra five minutes, with just under three to go, sophomore guard RJ Davis made a shot from distance to go up by eight and help keep the game out of range.
Love finished with 21 points, nearly all of which were scored in crunch time including a late 3-pointer that eventually led to overtime.
“(The seniors) mean a lot to this team, and they mean a lot to me,” he said. “It was just not wanting them to go out of that last game in the Smith Center with an ‘L.’”
Say what you will about this team. There will be time in the morning to discuss tournament chances and what-if scenarios.
But for now, only two things need to be said — this is a team where the seniors want it, and a team where everyone else wants it for them.
“There’s a responsibility on all of us,” Hubert Davis said.
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