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Armando Bacot leads No. 7 UNC men's basketball to definitive win over Virginia Tech

20240217 - UNC MEN’S BASKETBALL VS. VIRGINIA TECH
UNC graduate forward Armando Bacot (5) shoots the ball during the men’s basketball game against Virginia Tech at the Dean E. Smith Center on Saturday, Feb. 17, 2024. UNC beat Virginia Tech 96-81.

Every time Armando Bacot corralled an entry pass — in the short corner or low post — he knew it was time to go to work. 

On one occasion, the graduate center smacked the ball so loud prior to his post move, the sound was audible from the nosebleeds of the Dean E. Smith Center. He then employed a nifty spin move to notch one of his 11 baskets on the day. 

Bacot’s dominant 25-point, 12-rebound performance was the centerpiece of UNC’s scoring attack against Virginia Tech. In the second half alone, the big man amassed 19 points as part of North Carolina’s 54 in the paint that helped lift the Tar Heels past the Hokies, 96-81. 

“We felt like it was an advantage for us to dominate points in the paint,” head coach Hubert Davis said. “It’s been an emphasis every day since the beginning of the year, but we talked about getting back to that [today].” 

Leading up to Saturday’s game, Davis was not happy with how his team had shied away from attacking the rim. He pointed to the fact North Carolina has shot more 3-pointers than free throws since its loss at Georgia Tech. 

This time around, it was a different story. The Tar Heels not only shot more free throws (23) than 3-pointers (21), but they also generated the second-most points in the paint all season as a result. 

It wasn’t just Bacot. Forwards Harrison Ingram, Jalen Washington, and JaeLyn Withers all recorded multiple baskets. It didn’t matter who was mixed in at the four or five, because in the wise words of Bacot, “everybody ate”. 

As for the graduate center, he did most of his fine dining in the second half. 

Bacot didn’t score a basket until nearly 10 minutes into the game. From there, he tallied three layups over a 2-minute stretch — an appetizer for what was to come. When foul trouble plagued the Hokies' size, the Tar Heels looked to their preseason All-American to lead the way. 

“Armando was huge for us in the second half,” senior guard RJ Davis said. “His ability to just post hard and demand the ball, we were able to get it down low to him.” 

It seemed like every possession Bacot was given the ball in the post, one of three things was sure to happen. 

One: He would use his 6-foot-11 frame to back down a smaller defender, before spinning to the cup for a layup. Two: On the occasion a Virginia Tech big stood their ground, he'd simply lob a hook shot over their hands and into the basket from a few feet away. Three: In the face of a double-team, Bacot wouldn’t hesitate to pass, which, on multiple occasions, led to a wide-open shooter scoring.

Whatever method Bacot used to find success, it only came about because of the work he did before receiving the ball. According to Hubert Davis, his effort to win the positioning battle was the difference between a double-double performance and the lackluster games he’s had this season.

“One of the things Armando did really well was, in transition, his ability to just seal his man right in the middle of the paint,” Davis said. “It’s the perfect place to get him the ball because they can’t double-team him.”  

Since Bacot’s scoring resurgence during the Duke game, his offensive efficiency has seen a dramatic uptick. Ahead of the rivalry matchup, Bacot was averaging less than 12 points a game against Power Five opponents. Since then, he’s put up three 20-point performances and has averaged 19.6 in the last five games. 

An explanation for this success may stem from the meeting he had with Davis behind closed doors. As stated by Bacot, Davis is particularly hard on him to be successful and wants to push his graduate center to be better. So following the upset on Tuesday, the big man wanted to respond well with a productive game. 

“Me [and] RJ, we knew we didn’t like what happened over in Syracuse," Bacot said. "I thought we did a great job of responding, but I think the main things are just us carrying over and keep stacking up good days in practice.”

@cadeshoemaker23

@dthsports l sports@dailytarheel.com

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