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.