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Harrison Ingram's infectious energy lifts UNC men's basketball to win over Tennessee

20231129 - UNC MEN’S BASKETBALL VS. TENNESSEE (ACC/SEC CHALLENGE)
UNC junior forward Harrison Ingram (55) celebrates during the men’s basketball game against Tennessee in the Dean E. Smith Center on Wednesday, Nov. 29, 2023.

Harrison Ingram said he'd never felt so much energy coursing through his body as he did in the three days leading up to Wednesday

“I’ve been so locked in to this game,” he said. 

It showed.

The junior forward was one of the main contributors in the No. 17 Tar Heels' 100-92 win over No. 10 Tennessee, tying his season-high performance of 20 points and shooting 50 percent from beyond the arc. Furthermore, it was the Stanford transfer who got the ball rolling in the first half, recording eight points in the opening four minutes to ignite North Carolina's offense.

Less than a minute into the game, UNC graduate center Armando Bacot found Ingram open on the perimeter and kicked the ball out. Just like that, Ingram lit up the scoreboard for North Carolina, 3-0. 

The ball found its way right back to Ingram on the very next play. The forward was biding his time in the exact same spot as he had been in just a minute prior and, in a moment of déjà vu, he went through the same motions and released the ball once more. 

Swish. 

“I don't even know,” Ingram said when asked what was going through his head after sinking both shots. “I was just in the game, I was so happy.”

For the exclamation point on his get-to-know-me presentation against Tennessee, Ingram stole the ball from fifth-year Volunteer guard Dalton Knecht, sprinted down the court, and slammed the ball in what he listed as the most memorable moment of the game.  

“I blacked out on that dunk,” Ingram said. “I was just yelling and screaming — I don't even know what I was saying, I might have said something mean, I might have cursed. But when I got that dunk, and when I ate in the first four minutes, I was so turnt.”

The performance from Ingram didn’t come out of the blue. Throughout the season, the forward said he’s been drilling thousands of catch-and-shoot threes in practice to prepare himself for a moment like today. 

On Tuesday, he told reporters those were the type of shots he wanted to be taking, and his comfort level on offense with the rest of the team had never been higher. 

"They have confidence in me, I have confidence in them," Ingram said. "I like the way we're playing. We're sharing the ball. Everyone knows their spots and I feel like everyone's getting their role."

It certainly seemed that way Wednesday night. The Tar Heels worked together at a high level, moving the ball around the court and consistently finding open guys, like Ingram, for uncontested shots — something that Bacot pointed to as key after the game.

“Teams try to get in close and stop me from getting to the basket, [and] if I can kick it out and know they’ll make it, that's huge,” Bacot said. “Harrison, he’s been hitting those shots, so it’s been big for us.” 

Ingram wasn’t always so reliable, though. At Stanford, he had a 31.6 percent 3-point shooting percentage and never made more than three in a game. This season, he’s already averaging 48.5 percent and has notched four on three occasions. 

He said this all comes down to mentality. Ingram described himself as a “cocky" underclassman who didn't believe he "had anything to work on.”

Since he’s come to North Carolina, his mindset has shifted.

Ingram said he's worked incessantly on breaking down his jumpshot, getting more lift into it and gaining confidence — all of which have paid dividends for him this season. 

“The way I can describe [the shift] is I’m playing basketball at North Carolina,” Ingram said. “I feel like I'm living a dream. I’m just trying to have as much fun as I can.”

This level of gratitude for the program is something that head coach Hubert Davis praised after the Tennessee game.

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“There has to be a motivation out of thankfulness for being a part of this program,” Davis said. “And Harrison has that every day. His smile on his face in practice shoot-arounds, not just in games, it spreads to everybody on the team.”

On Wednesday, Ingram's infectious energy and momentum spread to the rest of the team after his 8-point outburst, helping the Tar Heels build a sizable lead over Tennessee that proved insurmountable despite a late-game push by the Volunteers.

“You know, [my teammates were] talking about ‘You’re him, no one can stop you,’” Ingram said of their reaction to his performance. “They’re juicing me up, but it’s all love. My teammates, they trust me, they hit me when I’m open and I love playing for this team.”

@PeaceGwen

@dthsports | sports@dailytarheel.com


Gwen Peace

Gwen Peace is the 2023-24 assistant sports editor at The Daily Tar Heel. She has previously served as a senior writer. Gwen is a sophomore pursuing a double major in media and journalism and peace, war and defense.