Despite digging an eight-point hole to open the game, the Tar Heels survived Littlejohn Coliseum to the tune of a 79-77 victory. It truly was one of the sloppiest games that I’ve seen all season, both because of the players and the officiating, but the Heels’ NCAA Tournament chances live to fight another day.
There is quite a bit to unpack from the Heels’ road win, and if I’m being honest, I could probably write 10,000 words going into all of the good and bad things that I saw. However, I wanted to share just a few thoughts from the game, including two things that really bugged me that had nothing to do with the refs. Let’s do this.
Let’s Discuss Bacot
I’ll start out by saying this: last night’s officiating was extremely painful. It was extremely frustrating to see how the game was officiated for both teams, and truly I don’t understand why the ACC hasn’t done anything about this yet (I know, wishful thinking) . With that said, Armando Bacot committed some unsavory fouls, and his most egregious foul came at the worst moment possible.
Following the Louisville game, we of course heard from Duke fans about how nobody was as hard on him as everyone was on Grayson Allen. While I still think comparing the two is BS, Bacot is certainly didn’t do himself any favors last night. Picking up a flagrant foul for shoving a guy’s face was flat-out stupid, and it is amazing to me that it didn’t cost the Heels the game. Thankfully Hubert Davis trusted him enough to send him back in with over six minutes left and he was able to hang in there until the 1:03 mark, but Clemson is mostly to thank for him not fouling out sooner. If I were them, I would’ve attacked Bacot as much as possible, but UNC lived to fight another day.
Over the last few games, people on social media have started labeling Bacot as a dirty player. I don’t think that’s fair, but also we’ve seen dirty players. I am still personally fuming from Grayson Allen injuring Chicago Bulls’ Alex Caruso with his antics. However, Bacot needs to start being a bit smarter on the court and stop adding fuel to the fire. If he doesn’t care about what people think of him, he at least needs to think about how stuff like this impacts games/his team.
I want more Dontrez Styles and D’Marco Dunn
All season long, Hubert Davis has restricted Dontrez Styles and D’Marco Dunn’s minutes. Whether or not that has been the right move isn’t for me to argue, but here’s what I do know: Styles looked good in his four minutes on the floor. Sure, he didn’t score any points, but he played well on defense, played well on offense, didn’t turn the ball over, and overall just brought some energy to a team that had some really weird energy to open the game. We also saw Dunn enter the game for the final possession of the first half, serving as a potential shooting threat to help spread out Clemson’s defense so that Love could find Bacot on the interior.
However, once the second half started, both Styles and Dunn never saw the court again. It’s truly becoming a bizarre, confusing situation with how Davis is using his two freshmen, because it seems like at worst they will provide a lot of energy when they enter the game. I also haven’t seen them make any horrendous mistakes, so why Davis is so resistant to giving them more playing time is beyond me. Hopefully he starts giving them more and more minutes as this month progresses, but I’ll be honest: I’m not holding my breath.
Learning to punch back
Alright, so the Heels needed some assistance getting back into the game. Clemson sprinted out of the gates to open the first half and took an 8-0 lead, but from there the Heels got going and slowly closed the gap. The Tigers started playing really sloppy basketball, which helped the Heels stay in the game until halftime. They finished the first half on a 22-6 run, with Bacot leading the way with 15 points.
The Heels have gotten off to some pretty bad starts on the road this season, but they deserve credit for chipping away at Clemson until they eventually took the lead. They played with a lot more composure and discipline than we’ve seen in those situations, and while they still made their fair share of mistakes, they showed us all that there is some toughness on this team. We saw flashes of that during the Duke game, but not only was the hole too deep to dig out of, they followed up good stretches of play with even more mistakes.
I really do hope that this is a turning point for this team, despite last night’s game being a three-pointer away from us having a completely different conversation. We’ll find out Saturday against Florida State.