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UNC men's basketball draws on veteran experience to notch 22-point win over Lehigh

UNC Graduate Forward/Center Armando Bacot (5) prepares to shoot the ball in the Sunday, Nov. 12, 2023 game against Lehigh in the Dean Smith Center. UNC won with a score of 90-68.

Armando Bacot doesn’t remember last year, or so he says.

However, if the graduate center did think back to the start of the 2022 UNC men's basketball season, he would’ve recalled how the team often let lesser opponents hang around in early games, never scoring a truly definitive victory.

And in the first half of the then-No. 19 Tar Heels' contest against Lehigh, it seemed to be happening once again. With 13:25 left in the game, Mountain Hawk guard Tyler Whitney-Sidney nailed a jumper to cut North Carolina’s lead to just three points. 

But so far this season, unlike last, North Carolina has demonstrated the composure needed to react and pull away from its opponents. North Carolina took control, outscoring Lehigh 37-18 in the remainder of the game on its way to a 90-68 victory on Sunday. This, along with UNC's ability to break off a back-and-forth battle against Radford for an ultimate 86-70 win in last week's season opener, demonstrate a sense of calmness that head coach Hubert Davis said stems from having multiple veteran players out on the floor.

“Armando’s been here for five years," Davis said. "Cormac [Ryan] and Paxson [Wojcik] have played in college for four years, five years so there’s a calmness because they’ve been there before.”

The two returning starters from last year’s team — senior guard RJ Davis and Bacot — helped North Carolina win the game by a margin of 22 points on Sunday. The pair led the team in points, with both scoring 22 and Bacot notching his third-career 20-point, 20-rebound game.

In addition to this experience, the poise that North Carolina displayed on its run might have also been the result of increased intensity from the third-year head coach. To start the second half, North Carolina’s field goal percentage significantly dropped as the team went 3-for-12 from the field, something that junior forward Harrison Ingram said was a result of North Carolina not playing as a team. 

“We were shooting bad shots,” Ingram said. “We were all trying to get our own and, I mean, we were shooting open shots but that’s not the shots we want.”

During the under-16 media timeout in the second half, Davis said he communicated to his team that they weren’t playing with enough passion and that they needed to ramp it up. 

“He felt like our intensity was just not where it needed to be,” RJ Davis said. “He just wanted to see that emotion and passion that he knows that we could play with and that he wanted to play with.”

After this, the Tar Heels broke the game open and established their dominance. Once UNC started to play five-on-five basketball, the shots began to fall, and the team went 12-for-19 to end the game.

The fact that North Carolina was able to apply the message Davis gave during the timeout, and apply it successfully to the game, showcased not only the calmness that Davis frequently mentioned but also the maturity of a team that features an average player age of 23.

With five graduate students and three seniors, North Carolina has plenty of experience, and thus, plenty of players who have played a lot of college basketball, allowing them to get out of situations like Sunday with composure.

“I mean, the maturity of the team with just the veterans and the experience, I think we listen and then we go out on the court and then do what they tell us,” RJ Davis said. “I think that’s going to be so special for us.”


@dthsports |

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