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UNC Basketball vs. Saint Peter’s: Player of the Game - Armando Bacot

Carolina has passed the hero baton around during their NCAA Tournament run. Last night, it was Armando Bacot’s turn.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament East Regional-St. Peters Peacocks vs North Carolina Tar Heels Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Saint Peter’s deserves all of the plaudits that will come their way. They had an amazing tournament. You don’t get to the Elite Eight as a 15-seed without being special. They are undersized and managed to take out Kentucky’s Oscar Tshiebwe and Purdue’s Zach Edey and Trevion Williams.

Perhaps by beating those teams in the first round and Sweet Sixteen, UNC was painfully aware of the threat the Peacocks posed to their march to New Orleans, and prepared accordingly. Armando Bacot is lighter than all of those players that Saint Peter’s handled. He’d have to be at his very best to make sure Carolina didn’t become another upset victim.

The non-fraudulent ACC player of the year was the player of the game in UNC’s first Elite Eight since 2017. He shined brightest in a constellation of stars. Why is he the obvious choice for player of the game?

It’s not because of his bulbous stat line: 20 points, 22 rebounds (8 offensive!), and two big blocks.

It’s not because he broke the hearts of all the folks that wanted to see a Cinderella team make it to the Final Four.

It’s not because of the way he physically manhandled the Peacocks, at one point single-handedly rebounding as much as the entire Saint Peter’s team.

It’s not because of the historical context of where his double-double put him in the NCAA Tournament...

... or the ACC record books.

It’s because when Armando went down with about eight minutes and change left in the game, clutching his right calf, every Tar Heel fan stopped dead in their tracks. Hands went over heads. Muffled curses escaped from lips. And then the waiting. Waiting for Armando to get up, bear weight, run, and play again.

In that brief, terrifying sequence, Carolina’s dreams of what was possible were put on pause. The Tar Heels cannot achieve their goals if Armando Bacot isn’t front and center. That realization, backed with his outstanding performance against a team that simply couldn’t match up with him, is why Armando Bacot is the player of the game.

It’s also why he holds the key to any chance that Carolina has to send K off into night, and to cut down another set of nets a week from now in New Orleans.