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Salute to the Iron Five: Leaky Black

Lockdown Leaky has been a nightmare cover for some of the best offensive players in the country. He also stepped up his offense in Carolina’s biggest win of the season.

How important was Leaky Black to the Iron Five? How did you feel when he left the NC State game at Raleigh with a knee injury? How did you feel when he came back in time for the overtime when over Syracuse?

I have gone into detail about how Leaky’s defense has become a force multiplier for UNC’s team this season. He doesn’t need to score 20 ppg if he’s limiting the opposing team’s top scorer to half their season average. The end result is the same for team’s +/- and it has the added bonus of disrupting a team’s rhythm.

Leaky’s defensive clamps took the wheels off Marquette’s bus before it could ever get into second gear. Justin Lewis, Marquette’s leading scorer, averaged 16.8 ppg this season. Leaky held him to just six points on 2-15 shooting. If you’re a Golden Eagle, that’s a long night watching your best scorer trying to run in quicksand. Marquette couldn’t cope, and only two of their players scored in double figures.

Carolina was fortunate to survive their second-round matchup with defending national champions Baylor. Takeaways from that game are a little sus since Brady Manek was ejected right before literally bursting into flames from his hot shooting. Leaky will be as glad as any Tar Heel that UNC walked out of overtime victorious, especially since we can all laugh about this backboard pass, now that the game was won:

UCLA’s dynamic duo of Jamie Jaquez and Johnny Juzang were on fire in the first half of the Sweet Sixteen game. They scored eight and seven points in the first half, respectively, with most of them coming off high-level makes. UCLA went into the half +3. In the second half, Leaky helped limit Jaquez to only two more points. Juzang only scored seven more, and Carolina outscored the Bruins by 10 in the second half to win the game 74-66.

Carolina cruised in the Elite Eight. No Peacock scored more than 12 points. Leaky’s length caused problems for Saint Peter’s guards, just like he did in the ACC Tournament against Kehei Clark.

Against Duke in the Final Four, Leaky repeated his Deion Sanders-like coverage of A.J. Griffin, limiting the star freshman wing to just 6 points on 1-7 shooting, including 0-4 from 3-point range, where he was Duke’s deadliest outside shooter throughout the season. Put that work into perspective:

Add to that Leaky’s offensive output in the Final Four, which got the game started off like this:

Leaky finished the game with eight points, hitting two big three-pointers. That’s three points higher than his season average. You’ll take those numbers every day, especially one as tight as the Final Four.

As the senior statesman of the team—he arrived with Coby White and Nassir Little in 2018—Leaky has seen the ups and downs of Carolina basketball. He was on a #1 seed team with Cam Johnson and Luke Maye. He was on a team that had a losing record with Cole Anthony. He was been with the current crop of players that have had wildly inconsistent performances, first with Roy Williams and now Hubert Davis. Finally, he has brought UNC back to the Final Four and their rightful perch at the highest levels of college basketball. Look how much it means to him and the program he loves:

Leaky has been through an amazing journey at Carolina. It was filled with growth, self-reflection, and culminated with him becoming the best version of himself for the betterment of the team. That journey was not without its dark chapters, though. Leaky has been brave enough to share that story with the world; and hopefully, someone who is in a similar headspace, but unwilling to share that burden with anyone, will now be brave enough to seek help the way Leaky did.

Leaky’s story makes him a Carolina legend. His skills—elite defense, ball handling, size and rebounding—make him an intriguing possible piece to next year’s team. He has not yet decided whether or not to take the bonus COVID year offered to all players, but Hubert Davis has made it clear that Leaky would be welcomed on next year’s team. If he decides to run it back one more time, that groan you hear from every leading scorer on Carolina’s schedule will be music to Tar Heel fans’ ears across the world.