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UNC men's basketball pulls away from N.C. State late to seal 80-69 win

UNC senior forward/center Armando Bacot (5) catches a rebound in the Dean Smith Center on Jan. 21, 2023, against the N.C. State Wolfpack. Bacot set a new record for career rebounds, breaking Tyler Hansbrough’s previous record. UNC won 80-69.

In a game that saw senior forward Armando Bacot break several program rebounding records, the North Carolina men’s basketball team (14-6, 6-3 ACC) defeated N.C. State (15-5, 5-4, ACC) by a score of 80-69 on Saturday afternoon in the Dean E. Smith Center.

What happened?

Facing an undersized Wolfpack frontcourt, the Tar Heels looked to feed Armando Bacot early, who established his presence down low with a number of post ups. The senior big man scored the team’s first five points and helped the Tar Heels jump out to an 8-5 lead at the first media timeout.

N.C. State soon started to put pressure on the Tar Heels by forcing a number of turnovers and eventually used a 13-0 run to race to an 18-10 lead. However, North Carolina broke its offensive dry spell with three consecutive baskets to trim the deficit to one heading into the under-eight timeout.

The Tar Heels extended their run after junior guard RJ Davis banked in a 35-foot heave with the shot clock expiring to give the team its first lead since early in the game. Davis continued to stay hot for the next several minutes, scoring 12 straight points to give the team a 28-25 lead with 3:49 remaining in the half. Although the Wolfpack soon found success by playing through forward D.J. Burns Jr. on the low block, North Carolina entered the break holding a 34-33 lead.

North Carolina came out of the break once again looking to have Bacot will his way inside. He scored eight of the team's first nine points of the half and forced Burns to the bench with his third foul. Despite the substitution, N.C. State guards Terquavion Smith and Jarkel Joiner soon picked up the offensive load to hold UNC to a 43-42 advantage at the first media timeout.

With the game starting to slow down, North Carolina looked to play with more pace with Davis and fellow junior guard Caleb Love pushing the pace and attacking the hoop in transition. The Tar Heels entered the bonus less than seven minutes into the half and used its interior play and proficient free throw shooting to give the team a 53-44 lead, its biggest of the night. Both teams raced down the court and failed to convert on the next few possessions, but the Wolfpack was given an and-one opportunity after a made layup by Casey Morsell helped the team draw closer with 11:41 to play.

Soon after the timeout, Bacot was reinserted into the game after sitting for a few minutes with three fouls and immediately cleaned up the glass and bullied his way inside. A few plays later, the Tar Heels were energized by an emphatic one-handed slam by graduate transfer forward Pete Nance to stretch the lead to 10.

With 9:45 remaining, graduate wing Leaky Black was ejected from the game for a flagrant two foul on Smith, who laid on the court for several minutes before needing to be stretchered off the court following an upper body injury.

Over the next few minutes, the Tar Heels continued to attack inside and continued to convert at the free throw to extend the lead to as many as 13 points with just over six minutes remaining. The Wolfpack cut the lead to seven with over two minutes to play, but Love converted on a baseline floater and late free throws to help the team seal the win.

Who stood out?

With 23 points and 18 rebounds, Bacot passed Tar Heel great Tyler Hansbrough for the most rebounds in school history. His dominant outing was also his 61st career double-double, which set a program record previously held by Billy Cunningham. 

When the team was struggling to produce offensively early, Davis gave the Tar Heels a lift by attacking the rim and hitting timely jumpers en route to scoring 16 first half points. He finished the game with 24 points and four rebounds.

When was it decided?

With just one point separating the teams with 15:08 to play, the Tar Heels used their paint presence to ignite a 14-5 run to give them a 10 point lead midway through the second half. Although the Wolfpack later cut the deficit to six, North Carolina pushed ahead and walked away with a relatively comfortable victory.

Why does it matter?

The Tar Heels struggled on the offensive end for most of the game, finishing with a 37 percent shooting percentage and 22 percent clip from behind the arc. Regardless, the team made the most of its size advantage and dominated inside with 28 points in the paint and 36 made free throws to secure the win.

The win is the team's ninth victory over the Wolfpack in the last 10 outings.

When do they play next?

The Tar Heels will head to New York to take on Syracuse on Tuesday night. Tip-off is set for 9 p.m.  


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