Even though graduate transfer forward Pete Nance played all 40 minutes in North Carolina’s 72-68 win over Syracuse on Tuesday at the JMA Wireless Dome, he still found a way to power through the fatigue and make plays when it mattered.
Even though senior big man Armando Bacot was up until 4 a.m. Tuesday morning doing homework, he still found a way to score 18 points and lead UNC in rebounding yet again.
And even though junior guard RJ Davis was bruised and battered throughout the game, he was knocked down just one more time — drawing a charge with 10.7 seconds left to close out the game with a win for the Tar Heels.
The win was anything but pretty, but it showed the grittiness that's needed for North Carolina to win close games.
“That’s one of the luxuries of this team, is that we’ve been in situations like this before,” head coach Hubert Davis said. “(The other team) making a shot with 55 seconds to go, and you’re down by two, that’s so much time. So much can happen. Having that type of experience and being in those situations allow you to be in the moment and be calm and execute.”
Down two points with 17.7 seconds left, Nance headed to the free-throw line for a chance to tie the game. He knocked down the first attempt and clanked the second off the back of the rim.
But Nance stayed calm.
He stood his ground and kept his eye on the ball, watching as Syracuse guard Joe Girard III dove for it and batted it right into his hands for an easy lay-in.
“Girard saved it right to me, and I think that’s kind of a story about the night," Nance said. "Just not giving up and knowing that the game’s never over."
RJ Davis stayed calm as Syracuse guard Judah Mintz barrelled at him to draw the charge, securing the win as he received an elbow to the face and caused Mintz to pick up a flagrant one foul.
The charge was one of three offensive fouls that Davis drew against the Orange, illustrating the immense toughness of someone who is often the smallest player on the court.
“He’s tough as nails,” junior guard Caleb Love said. “I appreciate having him on my team because he brings that toughness and grit to this team, and we need those type of guys. He put his body on the line.”
And while Love himself has had to remain patient the past three games — shooting a combined 3-for-22 from deep — he didn’t waver, knowing his shot would come eventually.
In the first eight minutes of the game, Love matched his 3-point total from the past three games, making all three of his 3-point attempts to open the night.
“It felt great,” Love said. “I had been working my butt off in the gym, so seeing those first three go through, it felt great.”
After the win, the Tar Heels will get a week off before getting back into ACC play, which is always challenging. But the team is approaching each game one at a time.
“I feel like we’re getting better," Davis said. "But we’ve got a long way to go."
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