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UNC men's basketball routs Louisville, 80-59, in Bacot's return to the court

UNC graduate forward Leaky Black (1) and senior forward/center Armando Bacot (5) high-five to celebrate the end of the men's basketball game against Michigan at the Jumpman Invitational in Charlotte, N.C., on Wednesday, Dec. 21, 2022. UNC beat Michigan 80-76.

The North Carolina men’s basketball team (12-6, 4-3 ACC) defeated the Louisville Cardinals (2-16, 0-7 ACC), 80-59, Saturday afternoon at the KFC Yum! Center.

What happened?

The Cardinals won the opening tip and senior El Ellis quickly drove to the hoop to convert the game’s opening basket. Moments later, senior forward Sydney Curry powered for a left-handed finish to give Louisville an early four-point lead.

Ellis continued to display his scoring prowess in the early goings. The Durham, N.C. native connected on a 3-pointer and swished six free throws to open up a 15-7 advantage for the Cardinals.  

North Carolina would fight its way back behind the play of his All-ACC center. Senior Armando Bacot notched his first bucket of the game with a putback dunk. Moments later, he converted a second-consecutive slam for the Tar Heels, inching UNC within four points.

Bacot continued to find success inside the paint. At 7:50 mark in the first half, the senior center followed up his own miss to bank in an and-one shot. Shortly after, a pair of Bacot buckets helped North Carolina open up a three-point lead.

UNC’s defensive pressure would pick up late and hold Louisville scoreless over the final two minutes of the first half. Junior guard RJ Davis would cap off the strong defensive stretch by canning a pull-up 3-pointer to extend the Tar Heels’ lead to 37-26 at the half.

Louisville came out of the break looking to cut into its deficit. An Ellis and-one layup and Curry hook shot trimmed North Carolina’s advantage to six points.

But Puff Johnson would heat up from distance to nullify the Cardinals’ comeback efforts. The junior forward swished a pair of 3-pointers in the first four minutes of the second half to elevate the Tar Heels to its largest lead of the contest, 49-33.

With Bacot on the bench with four fouls, UNC would get production from a plethora of players to keep the Cardinals at bay. Graduate forward Leaky Black would jam home two transition dunks and sophomore guard D’Marco Dunn would connect on a couple of threes to extend North Carolina’s lead to 21 points.

From there, North Carolina would comfortably defeat Louisville, 0-0. 

Who stood out?

After spraining his ankle moments into North Carolina’s previous contest against Virginia, Bacot’s availability heading into Saturday’s contest was in question. But after going through pregame warmups, the senior center was given the nod to start. The preseason ACC Player of the Year notched a double-double in the first half en route to a team-high 14 points and 16 rebounds. 

In his second-career start, Johnson helped North Carolina maintain its comfortable cushion in the second half. The junior forward drilled a pair of 3-pointers in the second half and finished with 12 points.

When was it decided?

The Cardinals came out firing early, as Ellis found success from all three levels to give Louisville a six-point lead. But North Carolina quickly erased its hole thanks to contributions from multiple Tar Heels to comfortably prevail.

Why does it matter?

With Louisville winless in conference play and ranked outside the top-200 in multiple ranking systems, Saturday’s win isn't a result that necessarily helps North Carolina’s postseason resume. Rather, it was a loss UNC could not afford. 

Though the Cardinals punched first, North Carolina responded well and opened up a double-digit lead at the half. From there, UNC would cruise to its fourth conference victory and received impressive contributions from a number of Tar Heels. 

When do they play next?

The Tar Heels return home to take on Boston College on Tuesday. The midweek contest is set to start at 7:00 pm.

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