CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The North Carolina men’s basketball team (9-4) defeated Michigan (7-4), 80-76, in the Jumpman Invitational at the Spectrum Center on Wednesday evening.
The Tar Heels struck first when senior forward Armando Bacot scored a dunk on a fastbreak. Fifth-year forward Leaky Black hit a corner three to take a quick 5-0 lead, but a layup and triple from Michigan’s Kobe Bufkin and Jett Howard, respectively, equalized the score.
Junior guard Caleb Love and Bacot traded buckets with first-year point guard Dug McDaniel, but the Wolverines built an early lead when Howard hit a three and star center Hunter Dickinson hit a layup. Junior wing Puff Johnson hit a second-chance three to slow down Michigan’s momentum, but the Tar Heels trailed 20-12 until junior guard RJ Davis hit a three.
The bout’s intensity amped up when Love was fouled by Dickinson on a drive and the two proceeded to scuffle, with Bacot and McDaniel getting involved. All four players received Class A technical fouls and Love only hit one of his two free throws. North Carolina’s woes from the charity stripe persisted all half, as the team only went 5-12.
The Tar Heels clawed back to tie the game backed by a fastbreak three from Love, who was also fouled on the attempt. Shortly after, Bacot notched a 3-point play of his own off an and-one post up. Davis hit back-to-back threes to give UNC a nine point lead, and a pair of free throws from Michigan’s Kobe Bufkin trimmed the halftime score to 41-34.
Dickinson missed a layup to open the half, which was capitalized by Bacot’s and-one on the other end. A pair of free throws from Dicksinon and Howard willed the Wolverines back into the game, and treys from Bufkin and Terrance Williams II cut the UNC lead to just three points.
Bacot hit a turnaround fadeaway on Dickinson to slow the Wolverine’s scoring run, but Michigan managed to stay just two possessions behind due to timely scores from Howard. Love poked the ball away for a steal and slammed the ball for a right-hand dunk, and Bacot scored an and-one layup on the next possession.
Michigan transfer guard Joey Baker and Love traded layups, then Bufkin drilled a 3-pointer. A Davis triple helped extend UNC’s lead to 69-60 with 5:45 left to play, but a second-chance layup followed by a Baker connection from downtown kept the Wolverines in the game.
Michigan inched within two points of the game when Bufkin hit another timely baseline jumper. With 40 seconds left, Williams II missed an open three at the top of the key — Michigan’s final chance to steal the victory. Then, Davis and Love hit their free throws to clinch the game.
Who stood out?
Bacot led the Tar Heels in scoring with 26 points. The backcourt tandem of Love and Davis combined for 37 points and nine of the team’s 13 total assists.
On the defensive end, Trimble and Black took turns guarding the dynamic scorer in Howard, who finished with 17 points on 6-12 shooting. Bufkin led the Wolverines in scoring with 22 points on 7-10 shooting.
When was it decided?
The game was decided when Williams II missed the three pointer that would’ve cut the lead to just one point with 40 seconds to play. From there, the Tar Heels dribbled out the clock and the Wolverines were forced to foul, where Davis and Love hit their free throws comfortably.
Why does it matter?
North Carolina is now on a four-game winning streak after eking out close wins against Power Five opponents. In one of UNC's most physical matches of the season thus far, the Tar Heels established a stronger sense of unity, dishing 13 assists and seeing strong minutes from reserve players Seth Trimble and Puff Johnson.
When do they play next?
The Tar Heels will travel north to face Pittsburgh on Friday, Dec. 30. Tip-off is at noon.
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