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UNC Basketball: Bouncing Back

The noteworthy example set by our latest great #5

NCAA Basketball: Boston College at North Carolina Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Armando Bacot had 20 points again on Tuesday night against Boston College, seemingly at full strength for the first time since rolling his ankle in last week’s loss to Virginia. Before exiting that game, Bacot was riding a career-high streak of five straight games with 20+ points. It’s unprecedented that Bacot would have been on a career-high anything, seeing as his career has been so illustrious, but that’s what we were looking at when the ball tipped in Charlottesville.

It was a nasty ankle roll, it must be said. Other injuries are scarier, or more gruesome, but few make me cringe like a badly-rolled ankle. Anyone who’s played basketball at any level for long enough recognizes that pain, and I feel a pang in my own ankle every time I watch it happen. Add to that the echoes from last season’s title game and the ghost of the banner that could have been in the rafters in the Smith Center, and it was a worrying sight. As I watched Bacot try to crawl off the court immediately after it happened, I was mentally preparing to weather a number of weeks without the beating heart of this Tar Heel team. I was wondering who would step up and match the contributions of the now-absent big man. I was wondering if Bacot would be back at full strength for the game against Duke; let alone this weekend’s matchup against our neighbors from Raleigh.

It takes time to get back to full strength after an ankle roll. I fell playing pickup ball before the holidays, bruised my shoulder like a klutz, and can still feel that crushed-ice crackle when I rotate it. Bacot played four days after rolling his ankle, clocking 25 minutes at less-than-full strength against an admittedly overmatched Louisville squad on Saturday.

Then it was Tuesday night, and Bacot played 35 minutes, scored 20 points and hauled down 16 rebounds—business as usual. We shouldn’t take this production for granted, and truly it’s hard to do so when you look closely at the team with and without him on the court. In his post yesterday awarding the prestigious Player of the Game title to Bacot, Matt mentioned that the team was a stunning +15 with Bacot on the floor.

The Tar Heels go as Bacot goes; that’s no secret. The hard part is going to be bouncing back like their star big man. If that four-game skid in late November/early December was the tweaked ankle, the 8-2 record since could be looked at like the return to business as usual. Time will tell, and as the team from Chapel Hill enters the teeth of this season’s schedule with upcoming games against top-25 ranked Clemson and Miami squads, as well as a return visit from the top-10 Virginia squad and two games each against the teams from Raleigh and Durham, it’s the hope of Tar Heel faithful that the return to business as usual means a return to work done in the last half of last season.

Regardless of what the future holds, to respond to that kind of ankle roll in the way Bacot did, without missing a single game, is astounding. He makes it look so easy, notching a casual double-double a week after leaving the court limping heavily, but it’s not normal. I’m grateful to get to watch the team with Bacot at the center, and I sincerely hope that the Tar Heels are able to bounce back from a disappointing start to the season in the same way that he has bounced back from injury time and again over the course of his career.

Ankle tape and mental toughness—it’s another great day to be a Tar Heel.