The past couple of weeks had been pretty rough for Armando Bacot — after six games, he’d been absolutely dominating the ACC with automatic double-doubles and the ability to get anything he wanted around the rim to the tune of 22 points per game. Then it just stopped happening. He’d still been a force on the boards, but shots just stopped falling for him, even layups. The Tar Heels as a whole have had a bad stretch with layups, but Bacot has been as big a culprit as any, and over his six games previous to this one, was averaging just 38% from the field for 13 points per game.
Against Clemson, though, against a pretty decent defensive post presence in P.J. Hall, Bacot roared back to life, showing off his uncanny ability to get available in the post, footwork, and touch around the basket on his way to hitting 8/10 shots, and also converting 8/10 free throws as the referees decided to call an extraordinarily tight game in the second half, on his way to lead all scorers and rebounders with 24 and 10, respectively. In a game as tight as this one, each point mattered, but Bacot isn’t just the player of the game for leading UNC in scoring but for how dominant he was — he rarely missed, made the Tigers pay for fouling, and still made sure to always be actually playing basketball, handing out 3 assists and grabbing a steal to boot.
The downside to Bacot’s game was accumulating fouls of his own, to the point where he fouled out of the game with 63 seconds left and the Heels down one. With his importance on both ends of the floor, being unable to play in crunch time is a huge no-no. His fifth foul was on offense as he ran into an off-ball defender because he wasn’t reading the floor well enough (and the defender might have gotten there late, but I digress); that’s an avoidable one even as tightly as this game was being called by the end. It’s the kind of play an upperclassman on this team has to avoid, and that’s not even getting into the flagrant foul he was called for after contact to a Tiger’s face. He hadn’t been all that foul-prone in the early part of this season, so hopefully with a game where his game came back, cleaner play and better availability will follow.
As an honorable mention, I was very, very close to making R.J. Davis the POG, for a nearly flawless floor game — he went 6/11 from the floor, including two of three from beyond the arc, and handed out 6 assists to no turnovers as he was really the team’s engine for the majority of the game. Caleb Love continued what’s now a 3-game slump as a shooter and floor manager and struggled most of the game, including two turnovers with 3-4 minutes to go that either ruined opportunities for UNC to get some space from Clemson or gave the Tigers an opportunity to put the game away. But as has been his wont this season, he absolutely carried his team through the last two minutes to the finish line with two fantastic assists and a three-pointer, all of which gave UNC leads to protect. And Kerwin Walton, who’s had a bumpy season, played 15 critical minutes as wing relief, scoring 7 points on 2/4 shooting and blocking a shot on his way to a team-high +/- of 8.