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Friday February 3rd

With first win in ACC Tournament, Brady Manek shows he is where he was meant to be

Graduate transfer forward Brady Manek (35) dunks the ball during the quarterfinals of the ACC tournament against Virginia at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn on March 10, 2022. UNC will advance to the semifinals of the tournament after beating Virginia 63-43.
Buy Photos Graduate transfer forward Brady Manek (35) dunks the ball during the quarterfinals of the ACC tournament against Virginia at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn on March 10, 2022. UNC will advance to the semifinals of the tournament after beating Virginia 63-43.

BROOKLYN, N.Y. — It was the moment Brady Manek had always dreamed of, yet he still found himself rubbing his eyes to make sure it was real.

Fresh off his 21-point performance in North Carolina’s 63-43 win over Virginia in the opening round of the ACC Tournament, the graduate transfer was asked when he was made aware that he had outscored the Cavaliers by himself in the first half.

He couldn’t provide a definitive answer. 

Instead, he pearled down at the stat sheet that sat before him. First he revealed a face of confusion, then came an emerging grin — ultimately resulting in a southwestern chuckle.

“I didn’t know it, but now that you say it, it sounds about right,” Manek said.

For the first 25 minutes of the game, the scoreboard at Barclays Center read Manek: 19, Cavaliers: 18.

Even as the Tar Heels struggled to put the ball in the hoop and shot just 6-23 from the field against a stacked pack line defense that has crippled the ACC for the better part of the past decade, Manek seized the opportunity.

Once his usual partner in crime Armando Bacot — yes, the low post player with one career made triple — clanked a three from the corner to open the game and RJ Davis later tossed up an attempt that caught nothing but air, Manek brought the Tar Heels to life by knocking down a trio of 3-pointers to help the team pull ahead.

“Brady was in a nice rhythm in the first half, but he's been in a pretty good rhythm the entire season,” head coach Hubert Davis said. “Virginia is so good defensively, Brady's ability to shoot the ball from the outside and also penetrate and drive and get to the basket really opened us up from an offensive standpoint.”

Last offseason, the Harrah, Okla. native was brought in to give the Tar Heels a viable shooting threat in the frontcourt — a weapon that has been notably absent in recent seasons. Thursday's game was a testament to that promise, as he was the only Tar Heel to make a three-pointer in the first half.

Now in the midst of North Carolina’s six-game win streak, Manek's former calling card has almost become secondary to his emerging all-around offensive play.

“Right in the beginning, you guys looked at him as maybe just a shooter, but now you really see how dynamic he is,” senior wing Leaky Black said. “He's been a mismatch nightmare for other teams, and it looks so easy for him.”

With his team up by 20 heading into the break, Manek could afford to spare the Cavaliers another explosion. Although he made only one shot in the second half, he spent most of the time sitting in the middle of the bench with a towel perched on his shoulders.

On a team that reeks of youth, as the Tar Heels’ relative elder, Manek's 28 minutes — his lowest total since late January — allowed him to recharge for the road that lies ahead, even if his heart was still on the floor.

“I like playing, so I don't know what you want me to say,” he said. “It was good seeing those other guys compete, playing hard and securing that win for us.”

Throughout a season of teetering on and off the NCAA Tournament bubble, second-guessing his transfer decision could have become second-nature to Manek.

But as the chorus of bellows shouting his name got louder and louder on one of the sport's grandest stages, the Oklahoma kid's dream had finally become a reality.

“Coming into North Carolina, I knew we had really good fans, really good program and a lot of support behind us," Manek said. "But I didn't realize it was this big. It was one of the coolest things to be a part of, and I can't be more thankful than I already am.”

@hunternelson_1 

@dthsports | sports@dailytarheel.com

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