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Bacot returns from injury, leads Tar Heels to much-needed victory over Georgia Tech

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UNC senior forward Armando Bacot (5) attempts at a basket the ball during the men's basketball game against Georgia Tech in the Dean Smith Center on Saturday, Dec. 10, 2022. UNC beat Georgia Tech 75-59.

Armando Bacot wasn’t even aware of the record.

As the Tar Heels exited a timeout late in the second half, the Dean E. Smith Center erupted in cheers. On the arena’s four screens was a message that UNC’s star center had tied the school record for games with at least 10 rebounds, having tallied this number in 61 contests.

Bacot looked up momentarily, shrugged a little and laughed off his newest addition to the UNC record book. After North Carolina's 75-59 win over Georgia Tech on Saturday, the preseason All-American admitted he wasn’t aware of his proximity to history.   

“Usually I will know if something is coming up, but actually that was unexpected,” Bacot said. “I mean, they got stats for everything now. So I guess that’s a record.”

But before Bacot posted a 21-point, 13-rebound stat line against the Yellow Jackets, it wasn't clear that he would even play.

Against Indiana on Nov. 30, Bacot suffered a Grade 2 AC joint sprain in his right shoulder, an injury that sidelined him in UNC’s previous contest at Virginia Tech. Leading up to the Tar Heels’ first home conference game, Bacot turned to the advice of an old mentor. 

“(My shoulder) is just something I’m going to have to deal with all year, it’s been done before,” he said. “Coach (Roy) Williams — I was talking to him yesterday — he said, ‘Al Wood played through it.’ And they barely had technology back then, so I’ll be fine.”

With Bacot back in the fold, North Carolina made a concerted effort to reinvigorate the Preseason ACC Player of the Year back into its offense.

North Carolina’s four-out offense featured Bacot as the lone post option, and his work down low enabled him to get deep paint touches for easy buckets. In transition, the Richmond, Va. native served as the lead rim runner, earning fast break dunks and establishing position near the restricted area. 

“Every single time we got the rebound off the glass, you saw me run down to the front of the rim and post,” Bacot said. “There’s not too many people that can stop me in college when I’m trying to get to where I want to.” 

Even when he didn’t find the ball, Bacot still found ways to positively impact UNC’s offense.

“Because Armando was posting up so hard, (when) he didn’t get the ball, he occupied a defender,” head coach Hubert Davis said. “Then Caleb (Love) and RJ (Davis) were able to get to the basket and nobody was there.”

Of course, not every aspect of Bacot's return was perfect.

He gingerly grabbed his shoulder at times, and Bacot admitted he still can’t fully extend his right arm. Even his jersey appeared off, as Bacot opted to wear a compression undershirt for the first time this year — a subtle change Bacot suggested he may continue.

“(The shirt) was something different,” Bacot said. “I kind of like it, though. I look kind of diesel.”

A number of plays contributed to what Davis said was his team displaying “Carolina basketball” for the first time this season. No aspect may have loomed larger than North Carolina’s renewed paint presence, led by Bacot.  

“I think in order for us to be a special team, I gotta take a lot of shots,” Bacot said. “(I need to) put pressure on other teams’ big men and get them in foul trouble, and just be nasty.”

@evanr0gers

@dthsports | sports@dailytarheel.com

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