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Tar Heels fail to muster comeback against UConn in Jimmy V Classic

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UNC graduate forward/center Armando Bacot (5) shoots the ball during the Tuesday, Dec. 5, 2023 Jimmy V Classic game in Madison Square Garden against the University of Connecticut. UNC lost 76-87.

NEW YORK —  Armando Bacot came out of the locker room hot. 

Within the first thirty seconds of the second half, the graduate center ran down the court, caught a pass from Elliot Cadeau and laid the ball up for an and-one.

It was a dream start for UNC, who had just cut its deficit to three with the chance to make it just two. Bacot took the free throw line, set up his shot, and released it into the air — only to see it clatter off the side of the rim moments later. 

No good.

This was the theme of the night in No. 9 UNC’s 87-76 loss to No. 5 UConn: missed opportunities. The Tar Heels had multiple chances to claw their way back in the second half — cutting UConn's lead to single digits on three separate occasions — but came up short in all instances.

“At the end of the day we just gotta knock down those shots,” Bacot said. “I missed a bunch of shots.”

In the second half, UConn seemingly couldn't miss from beyond the arc, draining four consecutive 3-pointers and a layup to go up by 13 — something the UNC defense had no answer for. 

“You look in the first half they were 4-16 [from the perimeter] and to come out and hit four in a row — I think we were really trying to just protect the paint to a fault and we didn't do a good job with switching out aggressive and running them off the line,” Bacot said. “So, I mean, credit to them for knocking down those shots.” 

But just like they had done in the first half, the Tar Heels started to slowly creep back into the game. 

Head coach Hubert Davis said that the team was attempting to catch UConn off guard by implementing a full-court press, doubling ball screens, and speeding up the Huskies' offensive rhythm. 

But, unlike the success of UNC's diamond press in Saturday's 78-70 win over Florida State, the Tar Heels' defensive strategy didn't have the same effect against a more offensively productive and talented team in the defending national champions. First-year guard Elliot Cadeau summed up the difference to UConn's "bunch of great, high-IQ guards."

Senior guard RJ Davis echoed the same sentiment.

In today’s game they were able to — once they broke the press — either throw down low or spray from three,” Davis said. “I think they came out in the second half hot and they had a lot of offensive rebounds.”

It wasn’t just the prowess of UConn — over the majority of the night, the Tar Heels just couldn't seem to get the ball to fall. The team only shot 59 percent from the free throw line, giving up nine possible points, and was only able to notch six second-chance points. 

But despite the loss, failed defensive attempts and poor shooting, North Carolina has a lot of positives to take away from Saturday — namely, contending with a top-5 program.

“I thought we came out today and kinda threw the first punch,” Bacot said. “It was close, but I thought we made our presence known."

@PeaceGwen

@dthsports | sports@dailytarheel.com

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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.