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UNC vs. The Citadel: Player of the Game - Tyler Nickel

The freshman had a career best that highlighted the bench’s stellar performance.

NCAA Basketball: Citadel at North Carolina Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

I make it a point to not tweet during games anymore. The reason? I don’t want the stupid stuff I say to others to get held against me amongst the Twitterverse. I mean, there’s a whole account meant to expose people who were just wrong.

That said, when I’m wrong about something, I’m absolutely going to own it. In a group chat on Tuesday night, with two minutes left in the second half and the Tar Heels ahead 90-61, I outright said they had no chance of getting to the 100 point mark. I had figured the team would slow it up, jack up ridiculous shots, and Blue Steel would come in to make sure they just missed the mark.

Tyler Nickel proved me wrong. Wronger than wrong. Very, very, very wrong.

I had no sooner sent “send” on that message when Nickel scored his second three-pointer in a row, then stole the ball from A.J. Smith, was found, and hit two free throws to get it to 95-61 with 1:33 left. Silly, silly me.

The eight points in a row that Nickel scored brought his total on the night to sixteen, easily a career high, and tied him for second on the team with Pete Nance. Only Caleb Love had more by one point. He came into the season with the reputation as a shooter, and he easily earned the Player of the Game for his overall line of 16 points in 19 minutes, 5/10 overall, 3/8 from behind the arc, three boards, and an assist.

The bench as a whole was what stood out Tuesday, besides the overall three-point shooting. For the first time all season no starter played more than 30 minutes, though Love was close. Meanwhile, Seth Tremble had 21 and Dontrez Styles had 15 which gave the Tar Heels valuable minutes, and it gave fans hope that maybe the Tar Heels won’t have to go with an Iron Five this season.

How much did the bench play? Nickel, Tremble, and Styles all played more than the 14 minutes that Leaky Black logged. They scored 42 of the Tar Heels’ 100 points, grabbed 21 rebounds, and 17 players logged minutes for Carolina on Tuesday night. It was a breath of fresh air to see the starters build a huge lead and be able to cheer on their teammates, and those teammates to reward them by holding the lead. The moment Jackson Watkins nailed the biscuits shot, you would have thought they hit a game-winner against an ACC foe.

Of the starters, you have to give a shout out to Love, who seemed to have found his three-point shot for the first time all season. Since he was benched at the end of the first half of the Georgia Tech game, it appears it’s snapped his game back from the funk it had gone down. He played a lot better in the second have against the Yellow Jackets, and on Tuesday he had 17 points to lead the team, had a 6/0 assist to turnover ratio, and went 4/6 from behind the line. It was arguably his best game of the season, and had the game been a little closer and Davis forced to play him more, there’s little doubt he would have cracked 20 easily.

Also, the offense is clearly flowing through Armando Bacot more. He once again used his size to dominate, scoring yet another double double with 14/11. He only had to play 26 of the 40 minutes, as he readies himself for the showdown on Saturday.

All that said, it’s rare we can name a bench player the player of the game, and when the bench gave you this much for the first time all season, you have to hand it to Nickel who just played an inspired game.