It’s always frustrating to watch your team lose, and it’s incredibly frustrating to deal with the fact that it’s been eleven years since the team you root for last won in a particular building. With all the momentum in the world, the Tar Heels rolled into Charlottesville Tuesday Night finally looking to put a real signature win on the season.
And just over a minute in, Armando Bacot rolled his ankle.
The rest of the game played out surprisingly as Carolina grabbed a lead in the first half and didn’t relinquish it for quite a while. Unfortunately, Virginia used a stretch where they turned a six-point deficit into a ten-point lead in a flash, and against that squad anyone is going to have a tough time recovering from that. Can we say we learned anything from that mess? Actually we learned plenty. Here are three things:
Armando Bacot may not be 100% the rest of the year
It’s been the thing that’s nagging at all of us since early in the season, but it was brought right out in front of us about a minute into the contest when Bacot rolled an ankle again. Despite the best efforts of the training staff to tape up the injury, he never came back and sat in his warmups during the second half.
At this point this is three injuries for Bacot this season alone, and that’s coming off the heavily injured ankles in the Final Four/National Title games last year. If it wasn’t clear before, it is now — he’s probably just not going to be 100% for the rest of the season. He’ll play and honestly, he’s probably been playing somewhere between 80-90% as it is. Even at that, he’s been living up to the preseason ACC Player of the Year he was chosen to be. It’s hard to believe that Carolina loses on Tuesday with that version of Bacot, as Virginia had trouble with this version that was also missing Pete Nance again.
The upcoming schedule for the Tar Heels is one that would allow Hubert Davis to rest Bacot: at Louisville, hosting Boston College, then before NC State you can at least see how he feels. We’ve seen what a 60% Bacot brings against Indiana and that just increases the chance of injury. Ultimate this is about March, and the schedule should allow the big man to get his ankles closer to right.
Jalen Washington can play
Someone was going to have to stand up when Bacot went out, and it turns out that player was Jalen Washington. Twenty-seven minutes, 13 points, six rebounds including five defensive boards, and only one foul after he had an effort not too long ago where he picked up three in only a few minutes.
This Carolina team is better when Armando Bacot and Pete Nance are on the floor together, but this effort for Washington was important. He was able to stand up to the wear of the game, was an important factor that UVA had to take seriously, and now has actual game tape of where he can improve.
One of those things? The game-sealing dunk by Reece Beekman. Washington got caught up on defense and it allowed Beekman to just stroll down the lane to basically put to rest any chance Carolina would come back. It was a play of inexperience, but he’ll get better. Considering where he started and where he is, it’s good to see him play as much as he did. One would hope that he can be a solid contributor for the rest of the season so that Bacot won’t have to keep playing over 35 minutes a game when he’s closer to healthy.
You can call this a good loss
There are no moral victories here because ultimately your record is what it is. That said, there are a lot of positives to take out of this one. The bench once again played a ton of minutes seeing valuable game action. The team also didn’t immediately lose its composure on both ends of the floor with Bacot out, as UVA only had a 5-3 lead at the first TV timeout.
There have been several instances where last year’s team would have lost a game by 30. This was one of those nights: missing two starters, one of whom is the early leader for the ACC Player of the Year, and everyone else just decided to shrug it off and use it as an excuse. Instead, bench players like Washington, Puff Johnson, Justin McKoy, Seth Trimble, and D’Marco Dunn rotated in and handled the Cavs for a while. Until they didn’t.
With 15:12 left, RJ Davis hit a free throw to extend Carolina’s lead to six. By 9:25, UVA was up by ten. That 16-point swing in six minutes is almost like a 30-point run when you’re playing a team like Virginia, and clearly when the Cavaliers started to go on their run that’s when the inexperience on the floor started showing for the Tar Heels. Time and again we’ve seen that lead continue to balloon.
And yet, over the next seven minutes, the Tar Heels managed to whittle that lead back down to two, and honestly they had several shots where they could have regained the lead. It was good to see, and it’s the latest example where the team is at least showing a fight they didn’t have last season. That experience may come in handy later on for the bench guys, who will probably see more action if Bacot and Nance are out for an extended time.