After a two-game skid, the Tar Heels took down Virginia Tech in what was an extremely ugly, yet needed 78-68 win. These games are tough, because it is almost too easy to focus on all of the things that didn’t go right, but honestly the last two games were so bad that I feel like it’s only right that we focus on some positive things we learned from this game. So let’s just say the bad out loud and then we can move on: first on the list was UNC going without a field goal for eight minutes in the second half. Second would be Brady Manek letting Justyn Mutts drop 18 on him (yes I know he didn’t guard Mutts on every make, don’t @ me), which is always hard to watch because you could tell that Mike Young loved that matchup. Finally, the bench only scored two points, which is an increasingly concerning situation with how deep the team is into ACC play.
Alright, do we feel like we got all of the negative out of the way? Good. Let’s discuss three positives from tonight’s game.
Brady Manek stepped up big time
For as hard as I am on Brady Manek for his defense, it’s hard to argue the impact that he has on the offensive side of the ball. His scoring ability was on display last night, specifically in the second half when he scored 12 of his 15 points for the night. He also was 4-8 from three, dropping some much-needed bombs when everybody else not named Leaky Black was struggling. He also was dangerously close to logging a double-double, pulling down eight rebounds for the night.
Manek’s performance wasn’t only an impressive one, but it was a timely one as well. At the 6:07 mark in the second half, Manek drilled a three to give UNC their first field goal in over eight minutes and extend the lead to 57-52. Roughly two minutes later, Manek went up for a monstrous dunk that nearly blew the lid off of the Dean Smith Center. Less than a minute later he knocked down one more three for good measure, and suddenly the Heels had a comfortable lead going into the final few minutes. Someone other than Armando Bacot had to step up if they were going to pull off a win, and Manek stepped up big time last night.
Everyone who watched the game against Wake Forest knows that UNC played uncharacteristically sloppy, selfish basketball. Heck, the team themselves admitted so as well — Caleb Love made it a point to mention it during the post-game presser, and he promised that he would play better the next game. Things indeed were much better last night against the Hokies, even though the box score didn’t paint the complete picture. The Heels finished the game with 13 assists and only seven turnovers, which is a pretty big improvement over the nine assists and 11 turnovers in the game against Wake Forest.
While those numbers definitely look better, I feel like the team as a whole looked that much better as well. They got the ball to Bacot early and often, they punished a collapsing defense from three, and overall ball movement was excellent. RJ Davis and Caleb Love even resisted the urge to force their offense, which I feel like was a huge problem in the previous game. Finally, five starters scored in double figures for the first time this season, and each one of them also recorded at least one assist. This is the Carolina basketball team we know and love, and we’ve been seeing it in the Dean Dome all season long. The problem is, we still need to see this away from Chapel Hill, which needs to be the challenge Hubert Davis gives the team before the Louisville game on February 1st.
Leaky Black appreciation post
I have a confession: I love every single opportunity that I get to discuss Leaky Black’s importance when it comes to this team. I know that he is a pretty polarizing figure, but the fact of the matter is that he does so many things that don’t show up on the stats sheet much, but when they do, it usually means the Heels are in that much better shape. Last night he did just that, finishing the game with 10 points, five rebounds, and two assists, with just one turnover.
The biggest reason I wanted to praise Black is for finally doing what I was hoping he’d do soon, and that is having the courage to knock down threes. For basically his entire UNC career, Black has always been really hesitant to shoot from the perimeter, mostly because his percentage isn’t great. The 2019-20 and the 2020-21 seasons broke him a bit I feel like, and prior to last night he was 2-10 for the season. However, I feel like a lot of his issue has been confidence, and it felt like he looked more confident than I’ve seen him look in a while shooting from deep last night. We all know by now that Black has a very specific game, and it could be that we don’t see him shoot with that level of confidence again for the rest of the season. But still, it was fun to watch, and I hope Hubert Davis tries to talk him into a couple of more attempts against Boston College Wednesday.