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'Flush it down the toilet': After loss in Atlanta, UNC men's hoops gears up for No. 7 Duke

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UNC junior forward Harrison Ingram (55) dribbles the ball during the Monday, Jan. 21, 2024 men’s basketball game against Wake Forest in the Dean E. Smith Center. UNC beat Wake Forest 85-64.

Following its 74-73 loss at Georgia Tech on Tuesday, the UNC men’s basketball team arrived back in Chapel Hill around midnight — but no one left the locker room for another hour and a half.

There was an unspoken agreement to hold a team meeting. Players only. They addressed the game, discussing what worked and what didn’t. They acknowledged that Georgia Tech “hit a lot of crazy shots.”

One of the main takeaways though? Move on to the next one. Or, in Armando Bacot’s words, “flush it down the toilet.”

“It was great for us, too, because it allowed us to have some sort of feeling of how we need to play and what we need to do,” the graduate center said. “It let us know, like, we’re human.”

Seeing as No. 3 North Carolina is set to face No. 7 Duke on Saturday, the Tar Heels can not afford to stew on the Atlanta slip-up for long.

Like any given year, the Blue Devils — led by center Kyle Filipowski — are talented from top to bottom. Filipowski’s supporting cast can space the floor, with four players shooting above 40 percent from three.

“I think the game will really be won between me and him,” Bacot said. “Whoever gets in foul trouble first, really.”

Beyond the Xs and Os, though, it’s a rivalry game with considerable implications. For the first time in five years, both blue bloods are ranked heading into the matchup. But as notable as that is, the intensity won’t — and shouldn’t — change, senior guard RJ Davis said.

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UNC senior guard RJ Davis (4) celebrates with his teammates after a win during the Monday, Jan. 21, 2024 men’s basketball game against Wake Forest in the Dean Smith Center. UNC beat Wake Forest 85-64.

As often as head coach Hubert Davis deflects any questions about how this contest might be different from others, the players certainly sense it.

“I’ve definitely noticed how energetic everybody is,” junior forward Harrison Ingram said. “Everybody is going to sleep early, getting their eight hours, nine hours, getting their shots up.”

For some players, like transfers Ingram and Cormac Ryan and rookie Elliot Cadeau, Saturday will be their first appearance in this storied matchup.

But for others, Saturday could be their last time facing Duke in the Dean E. Smith Center. It certainly will be for Bacot, who’s on his final year of eligibility.

“It actually hasn’t even hit me yet,” senior guard RJ Davis said.

The veteran tandem already etched their names into UNC-Duke lore during the Tar Heels’ fairytale run in 2022, but neither managed to defeat the Blue Devils in front of a fully packed home crowd. Bacot even said he’d prefer a home win over one in Durham.

But until then, all the Tar Heels can do is live in the present, try to stay off social media, and focus on what is real. Drown out the noise, which Hubert Davis defined as anything that doesn’t help you become a better player, person and teammate.

“As wonderful as it is to have ESPN (College) GameDay here, I don’t see it helping us box out and defend Filipowski,” Davis said. “I don’t see how that helps us make a three or a free throw.”

Davis isn’t surprised at his players’ initiative to meet despite the late hours. After all, the head coach himself rewatched the entire Georgia Tech game that night after getting home.

He said he didn’t sleep until around 3:45 a.m.

“When there are moments of wind, rain and cloudy skies, you have a choice,” Davis said. “You can stay down, you can point fingers, you can whine and complain and make excuses. Or, you can get back up, move forward and fight.”

“For us,” Davis said, “there’s no choice.”

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 @danielhwei

@dthsports | sports@dailytarheel.com


Daniel Wei

Daniel Wei is a 2023-24 assistant sports editor at The Daily Tar Heel. He has previously served as a senior writer. Daniel is a junior pursuing a double major in business administration and economics.