"I told you I would get it," Armando Bacot quipped at reporters in the tunnel as he headed into the North Carolina locker room following Saturday evening's win over N.C. State.
With his 23-point, 18-rebound performance, Bacot crowned himself the school's new rebounding king, breaking the career rebounds record previously held by Tyler Hansbrough and career double-double record held by Billy Cunningham.
After getting a water bottle shower from his teammates, Bacot reemerged from the locker room after some time wearing white Prada sunglasses. (N.C. State's team has made a habit of wearing similar shades after their home games.) The senior big man then showed off his new tattoo to the media — a caricature of Dennis Rodman that he had gotten on his calf just two days prior.
But for as cool as Bacot played it following the 80-69 victory, he admitted that he was relieved once the pressure of breaking those two records was behind him. After grabbing his 17th rebound of the game – and 1,220th of his career – with seven minutes remaining in the game, Bacot said it felt like "a weight off (his) shoulder."
The Tar Heels and Wolfpack played it close in the first half, with UNC leading 34-33 heading into the break. Bacot had already tallied seven points and nine rebounds by then, but he was forced to play cautiously after picking up two quick fouls trying to guard N.C. State big man DJ Burns Jr.
"I got a good start getting a good amount of rebounds, and I picked up that second foul and I was like, 'Whoa,' just not trying to get in foul trouble but trying to stay in the game and be aggressive," Bacot said.
As a team, UNC struggled to shoot in the first half. The Tar Heels only connected on nine of 28 shots, 13 of which were three-point attempts. In the locker room, head coach Hubert Davis implored his team to work inside and get to the foul line.
"N.C. State is the worst (in the ACC) at putting people at the free throw line," Hubert Davis said. "So going into the game, it was important for us to attack the basket through post to penetration."
UNC successfully executed that game plan in the second half, attacking the paint hard and getting out to a seven-point lead by the under-12 timeout. Bacot scored 10 of UNC's first 11 second-half points and continued to crash the glass to notch his 61st career double-double.
The feat has become so commonplace for Bacot that even his teammates don't see his double-double performances as anything too special.
"I'm already expecting him to get a double-double within the first five minutes of the game," junior guard RJ Davis said.
Perhaps that's just what the all-time great players do: they make the extraordinary ordinary.
But for Bacot, who's done just about everything a basketball player can do wearing argyle and blue, there's still one last bucket list item he needs to check off before he can consider himself among the venerated Tar Heels of generations past — win a national championship.
When asked where he places himself among the legends of UNC men's basketball, Bacot responded coyly.
"I can't put myself too high because it's still one more thing to do," he said. "But if I get there, then we can have a different discussion."
@dthsports | email@example.com
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