BLOOMINGTON, Ind.— Coming into the season, senior forward Armando Bacot had Wednesday night's clash against Indiana circled on his imaginary calendar.
Both teams feature star big men, with Bacot and Hoosier senior forward Trayce Jackson-Davis offering an enticing battle in the post. The two even exchanged playful banter on Twitter in May after Jackson-Davis challenged the Tar Heel to make the cross-country trip to Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall, to which Bacot replied, “You know it's going down.”
The two preseason First Team All-Americans seemed poised to be the marquee matchup in North Carolina's first true road game of the season, but by the end of Indiana’s 77-65 win over the Tar Heels, the Hoosiers’ prized forward had not only outdueled Bacot and every other UNC post player — he dominated them.
Entering the game, Bacot was aware of the physical advantage he held over Indiana’s standout forward. To counter, Jackson-Davis used altering speeds on post-ups and savvy footwork to gain favorable position en route to scoring a game-high 21 points while also notching 10 rebounds.
“(Jackson-Davis) does a really good job of, in the post, doing this thing called ‘up-downs,’” Bacot said. “I’m stronger than Trayce, but he does a good job of not letting that affect him because he can bounce off you.”
Jackson-Davis’ ability to keep opposing defenders guessing forced Bacot to commit his second foul with a little over seven minutes remaining in the first half. The early foul trouble caused him to exit the game and made graduate forward Pete Nance the primary defender down low.
Over the next two possessions, Jackson-Davis slammed home a pair of dunks, capped off by a put-back jam that came when he bullied Nance deep inside the restricted area.
“(Jackson-Davis) has been really effective for a long time,” Nance said. “He gets to his spots and they do a good job of getting him the ball in his spots.”
The senior forward didn’t solely do his damage on the block. Jackson-Davis displayed a willingness to pass throughout the night that helped him finish the game with four assists. On two of Indiana’s three total 3-point makes, Jackson-Davis selflessly kicked out to an open teammate who knocked down the shot from distance.
“The issue was Trayce Jackson-Davis,” head coach Hubert Davis said. “They have a player that they can run offense through that can generate points for them on every possession. And as of right now, we don’t have that. We don’t have that in the post.”
While leading the charge for Indiana’s 50 points in the paint, Jackson-Davis didn’t stop at just controlling the game on the offensive end — he wanted to dominate in every facet of the contest.
Three minutes into the game, Jackson-Davis rejected a Bacot put-back attempt from behind. By the end of the game, he tallied four blocks, three of which came against UNC’s leading big man.
Though Bacot admitted he was battling through pain in both his already-injured ankle and shoulder — which he tweaked moments into the game — the first-team All ACC honoree admitted there's no room to make excuses.
Following three straight losses, Bacot understands the clock is ticking to revert back to the standard of playing as the former top-ranked team in the country.
“Individually, none of us are really playing at the level we can really play at — we’ve just got to figure it out,” Bacot said. “When you're not getting the results it’s tough. We’re going to grow through it and grow through it as a team.”
To get the day's news and headlines in your inbox each morning, sign up for our email newsletters.