Let’s briefly run through some honorable mentions before zeroing in on the hero of the day.
- Leaky Black had an absolutely monstrous +/- (+27), the highest total on either squad, with the next highest Tar Heel being RJ Davis with +13. He had tough defensive assignments all night and managed to stay in the game with four fouls, most of them of the nonsense variety to even out calls.
- RJ Davis had a huge 21 points and eight rebounds in his New York homecoming, salting the game away at the end, hitting eight of nine free throws.
- Caleb Love had one of those inefficient shooting nights he’s prone to, but came up absolutely huge when the Heels needed him most. He finished with 22 points (with four made threes) and seven assists against just two turnovers.
- Pete Nance did this:
But let’s be real. The player of the game could only be one guy, and that’s senior center Armando Bacot.
Ohio State lacked the size to stop Bacot from getting to the rim one-on-one. His main opponent was Long Island native Zed Key, who is only 6’8”, but weighs 255 pounds (15 pounds heavier than Bacot!) Bacot battled Key and reserve center Felix Okpara, a 6’11” reserve center who couldn’t physically match Bacot. Okpara fouled out having only played 12 minutes, and the two centers combined for just 15 points and seven rebounds.
Early in the first half, Bacot was called for an offensive foul and was immediately pulled for Puff Johnson, then sat for six minutes. When he came back, Ohio State swarmed Bacot with double-team help whenever he got touches in the post. Bacot did not score his first field goal until the 8:19 mark when the Buckeyes were up 12. After that, it was a bevy of dunks, shots at the rim, and free throws as the Tar Heels closed the deficit to nine at halftime.
Bacot was extremely efficient, scoring 28 points on 11-19 shooting (6-9 from the free throw line) but it could have been so much more. There was a strange dichotomy in the foul calls all game where both UNC and OSU players were called for phantom or soft touch fouls, but Buckeye defenders were able to grab, smack, and body Bacot at will.
Bacot, who is usually a quiet professional on the court, was jawing with the Buckeyes and giving the “too small” gesture to Key after scoring key baskets against him.
Every basket Bacot provided was precious, as Ohio State was shooting better from downtown than Carolina (until the last nine minutes of the game). If UNC continues to shoot sub-30% from three, they’re gonna need all the Bacot juice they can squeeze out of the paint.
To put the cherry on top of a top-tier performance on the court, Armando had this to say on the postgame court-side interview:
"We just had to fight. ... At some point we have to draw the line and I feel like today we drew that line. ... I love this school. I love these fans. I love everything about it. I would die for this school."— CBS Sports CBB (@CBSSportsCBB) December 17, 2022
—@UNC_Basketball's Armando Bacot after his team's comeback win pic.twitter.com/OfrCPj3I2R
UNC legend status secured.