GREENSBORO, N.C. — As Virginia's Jayden Gardner dribbled out the final seconds, Leaky Black dropped his hands to his knees.
UNC's graduate wing hunched over and stood still, soaking in the immediate aftermath of the Tar Heels' 68-59 defeat to Virginia in the ACC Tournament. While his fellow teammates began to make their way through the postgame handshake line, Black remained frozen.
Senior center Armando Bacot hobbled over and wrapped his right arm around his older teammate. The two were roommates during Bacot’s first year at UNC, and the first-team All-ACC center said they share a special bond.
“(Black) helped me grow a lot,” Bacot said. “Just the way he comes in and works every day, it’s infectious and kind of just rubbed on all of us.”
Throughout the course of the year, Black’s played a malleable role for North Carolina.
Of course, he was tasked with guarding the opposition’s top scorer each night — guys like first-team All-ACC performers Isaiah Wong and Hunter Tyson.
But in some games, Black was counted on to create his own offense, seen in his 18-point outings against Florida State and Wake Forest, or he served as North Carolina’s main facilitator or secondary rebounder.
Through each passing season, and every new role, Black’s become accustomed to altering environments. He saw the highs of last season’s NCAA Tournament run and fought through the pains of playing during a global pandemic.
But after Thursday night’s contest, in what will likely be his last game in a Tar Heel uniform, Black couldn’t grasp his emotions.
“I don’t know, I feel kind of numb right now,” he said. “It doesn't feel right — don’t really know what’s going to happen.”
Throughout the course of the night, Black and North Carolina struggled to break down the Cavaliers’ pack line defense. Black and junior guard Caleb Love were noticeably quiet. Add in 11 turnovers and five missed free throws, and the Tar Heels made their task of defeating a fundamentally sound Virginia squad even tougher.
“I felt like there were plays we could have made — the missed free throws, turning the ball over, just the little things,” junior guard RJ Davis said. "It's been like that the whole year, just attention to details, little things that we just need to perfect and that we didn't do in today's game.”
After hurting his left ankle against Boston College on Wednesday, Bacot tried to give it a go against the Cavaliers.
Visibly hampered by his injury, Bacot subbed himself out for junior forward Puff Johnson midway through the second half. Bacot said his ankle limited his ability to establish position and set screens, and that taking himself out, albeit a difficult decision, “put (UNC) in the best place to win.”
“I feel like I’ve watched (Bacot) grow up in front of my eyes,” Black said. “I’m getting choked up just thinking about it — it’s kind of crazy.”
As UNC’s locker room opened up for postgame player interviews, Black and Bacot left to walk the halls of the Greensboro Coliseum, before eventually returning to answer questions.
One, the program’s all-time rebound leader. The other, the Tar Heel with the most career games played.
During the near five-minute walk, Black said they reflected on their careers at North Carolina. He said the two talked about how fun last year was, and how over the course of the past four seasons together, both “have been through a lot.”
Black was cautious to go into full detail about what was specifically said during the brief walk, but he did reveal one phrase from what may be the two’s final conversation as teammates.
“I just said, ‘I love him.'"
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