In UNC’s past six games before yesterday afternoon’s match with N.C. State, six different players led the Heels in scoring: Armando Bacot, Day’Ron Sharpe, Leaky Black, Garrison Brooks, R.J. Davis, and Caleb Love. Some would call that a balanced scoring attack, given all six players’ flashes of excellence this season amongst an up-and-down season that’s slowly righting itself. Others, like our friend Jake, were prompted to ask, “who exactly is steering this ship?” As was noted at the beginning of yesterday’s broadcast, Bacot is leading the team in scoring, but if the season had ended before yesterday’s game, he’d have been the first Tar Heel since before World War II to lead a UNC team in scoring with less than 12 points per game. But on Saturday, against a mostly overmatched NC State front line, Bacot took the reins early and kept it up, scoring 17 points on a hyper-efficient 8/12 shooting line and adding contributions all over the floor, including 8 rebounds (6 defensive), 2 steals, and a block, and he’s earned my Player of the Game award for his performance in UNC’s revenge win over the Wolfpack.
Bacot and Caleb Love accounted for pretty much all of the Heels’ scoring early in the game, when it was a pretty back-and-forth affair, and Bacot scored 10 of UNC’s first 20 points. Bacot continually found space around and over State’s front line, and scored in a variety of ways: posting up on smaller players, face-up driving through defenders with his improved strength over last year (including a drive left and a finish with the left hand, showing off skill as well as power), and even nailing a jumper from a step beyond the free-throw line. While Love cooled off a little as the game went on, though, Bacot stayed hot throughout, scoring at timely intervals as UNC took the lead and held on to it despite a couple of scares. The only thing he didn’t do well was score from the free-throw line, where he was just 1/4. The team collectively was just 8-18, though, so that’s not even a problem that was notably his.
Bacot has been UNC’s most consistent contributor this year, and this game pushed him up to an average of 12 points per game to go with his 7.7 rebounds. More impressive, though, has been his efficiency and contribution to winning. He’s scoring at a clip of 64.2% from the field, which would be a top-5 mark in UNC history if it holds, boasts the highest box plus/minus on the team (9.0 points added per 100 possessions, which is 7th in the ACC) as well as the highest Player Efficiency Rating on the team (27.6, 3rd in the conference), despite taking the fewest shots out of any of the starters. He’s also 3rd in the league in Total Rebounding Percentage and Offensive Rebounding percentage despite having league leader Day’Ron Sharpe on his team. He’s playing really well, and his game against NCSU might have been his best yet just for the expanded offensive arsenal he showed off — so far his increased field goal percentage had mostly been a result of easy attempts, which isn’t nothing, but the way he created buckets for himself against the Wolfpack was something we haven’t seen much of out of him. If that becomes a consistent part of his game, it’ll be a huge gift to the Heels going forward.
Other contenders for Player of the Game include the aforementioned Sharpe, who broke out of a slump from the past few games to put together a 16-point, 10-rebound double-double on 8/13 shooting. He only just didn’t get the award because Bacot had a better floor game; Sharpe had two turnovers and no blocks, assists, or steals. Love has something of an argument, continuing his excellent play from last game into the first half of the State game and finishing with 15 points and 5 assists (but 5 turnovers), a block, and a steal. And Anthony Harris, after struggling against Wake Forest, was a sparkplug again, with 10 points in 11 minutes and excellent point-of-attack defense. This team is starting to come together, and with a couple of potentially tough road games coming up, it couldn’t be at a better time.