You can make an argument for several players in the workmanlike victory against Virginia Tech last night. All five starters scored in double figures and each had moments that were crucial for the win.
Ultimately, Brady Manek is going to be the choice here. Right before the game, the Tar Heels announced that Dawson Garcia was headed back to Minnesota to deal with an illness in the family. We hope and wish the best for Garcia’s family, but one less big created more pressure on Armando Bacot and Manek. The weight of the work showed quickly, as Virginia Tech looked to wear the bigs down with a lot of one on one play by Keve Aluma.
To Manek’s credit, even though Aluma led all VT scorers, he was held short of hitting 20, and was only 7-15 from the floor. Manek gave up a few layups, but he also tightened up on defense with the challenge, especially as Armando Bacot was hit with some foul trouble late in the game.
Manek doesn't get this award for his defense, though it helped. This was another game where the ball just didn’t want to go into the basket, despite a lot of good looks. The Hokies weren’t exactly filling it up, either, but they had managed to keep close with Carolina, getting to within two with under seven minutes left. Manek then would have a sequence that sparked the crowd. Nahiem Alleyne would miss a jumper to try and tie it, Manek grabbed the board, got down the floor, and then took a feed from Caleb Love from three and swished it through. Then about two minutes later, Love would drive into the lane and try a running layup, Manek anticipated the miss well and stuffed it home before the Hokies even had a chance to react. The dunk shot lit up the Smith Center crowd, the Tar Heels would go up by six, and the Hokies never seriously threatened again.
Manek finished 4-8 from behind the arc, with fifteen points, eight boards, three assists, a block, a steal, and one turnover, all in 34 minutes of action. It was a hefty effort by the bearded one that was sorely needed when Garcia couldn’t come in to spell him, and likely won’t be able to on Wednesday either.
Armando Bacot was well on his way to being POG early. He was literally the only offense the Tar Heels had until the first media timeout, then the Hokies sold out to stop him and that’s when Carolina had trouble adjusting. That said, if he could have gotten a few more of his 19 shots to fall he would have easily had another 20 point game. He still managed to rip down 19 boards, and added a block, a steal, and a key hustle play to save a Carolina possession late in the second half. It’s clear at this point that defenses are keying in on Bacot, and other Tar Heels are going to have to step up in order for this team to do anything.
Caleb Love led all scorers with 22, but his 5-14 shooting was a bit of an eyesore, and indicative of the team that shot 36.5% overall.
There’s little rest for the weary as the Tar Heels are back in action tomorrow night against Boston College.