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Sunday September 25th

Bacot's late-game poise helps No. 8 seed UNC upset top-seeded Baylor, 93-86

UNC graduate forward Brady Manek (4) holds junior forward Armando Bacot (5) back after a controversial call during the second round of the NCAA tournament against Baylor on Saturday, March 19, 2022, in Fort Worth, Texas. UNC won 93-86.
Buy Photos UNC graduate forward Brady Manek (4) holds junior forward Armando Bacot (5) back after a controversial call during the second round of the NCAA tournament against Baylor on Saturday, March 19, 2022, in Fort Worth, Texas. UNC won 93-86.

With just under 11 minutes left on the clock, No. 8 seed UNC had the defending NCAA champions and top-seeded Baylor on the bus and ready to head back to Waco.

The Tar Heels were up by 25 — their largest lead yet in the game.

But a quick turn of events would land the Bears back on the hardwood and in hot pursuit on the scoreboard. A series of technical fouls and ejections led to abrupt changes in UNC's lineup and strategy.

But through the last-minute shuffle, the North Carolina men’s basketball team booked its ticket to the Sweet 16 for the second time since 2019, beating Baylor, 93-86, in a game filled with high emotions.

Less than a minute after graduate forward Brady Manek's three lifted the lead to 25, he was ejected with a flagrant foul.

Then, sophomore guard Caleb Love fouled out. To top it off, junior forward Armando Bacot picked up his fourth foul.

The Tar Heels' lead had shrunk to just nine with five minutes left in the game.

With only sophomore guard R.J. Davis and Bacot, the team's top scorers, left in the game, the Tar Heels had their backs against the wall.

That was especially true for Bacot, whose size and paint presence are what UNC needed most. But, through the noise, he delivered with poise and didn't let the adversity affect his impact on UNC’s upset win.

Throughout the game, Bacot asserted his dominance in the paint, posting a monster double-double of 15 points and 16 rebounds. Yet, even before the Bears’ comeback, he encountered some troubles.

Things got especially chippy between Bacot and Baylor’s Jeremy Sochan. They committed multiple fouls against each other, including a second-half scramble for a loose ball that resulted in a common foul and one technical foul for Bacot’s second and third, respectively.

“You just had two teams that were fighting and scratching and kicking and clawing on every pass, every rebound, every cut and every shot," head coach Hubert Davis said.

But that scrappiness came with a cost. After losing Love to his fifth foul and Bacot picking up his fourth, it was time to be cautious.

With a career-high 30 points against the Bears, R.J. Davis showed that he can come up clutch for the Tar Heels all through the season. With the way he was playing, maybe it wouldn't have been the end of the world if Bacot fouled out.

R.J. Davis credited Bacot's play — along with that of transfer forward Justin McKoy and first-year wing Dontrez Styles — with his ability to “get easy baskets” that kept the offense scoring while under pressure, which the Tar Heels were reluctant to fold under.

“I think Justin, Armando, Trez did a good job of creating space to get open,” he said.

But a foul away from a permanent spot on the bench, Bacot's play reflected a determination to not leave his teammates on the court with the season on the line. 

“I just had to be smart and not pick up any silly offensive fouls setting screens or sealing, or doing anything like that,” Bacot said. “Also on the defensive end, too, I just had to try to keep my body away from their guards at the end.”

He followed that plan perfectly in the final minutes of regulation and overtime, coming up with crucial blocks and rebounds to stop Baylor’s scoring attack and give UNC more opportunities to secure the win.

But in trying to remain careful, Bacot got fouled a few times, including going to the line and knocking down five free throws between the final two regulation minutes and during overtime.

This season, he hasn’t always been the best option at the line for the Tar Heels. 

And yet, it was Bacot’s and-one with just under two minutes to go in regulation that calmed Baylor’s momentum as they climbed to being within three points. He was essential in breaking the Baylor press defense that was giving UNC so much trouble.

It was his play during those critical moments that meant the most: without him, they might not be dancing in Philadelphia this Friday.

“It was a lot of pressure in those moments,” Bacot said. “But I mean, it was just the next play mentality, and we really had to dig in and just keep pushing and just keep a level head.”

@AsheeboR38

@dthsports | sports@dailytarheel.com

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