The Thanksgiving matchup between UNC and Villanova was one of those games that we talk about in college basketball all the time: it was really fun for anybody without a rooting interest, and really frustrating if you were the loser. In this case, the Tar Heels struggled mightily when dealing with Villanova forward Eric Dixon, and ultimately it led to a 83-81 loss in overtime.
Let’s focus on the good first: UNC forward Harrison Ingram had himself a game against the Wildcats. In the first half alone, Ingram went 4 of 5 from the field, which was good enough to finish the half with 13 points and a pair of rebounds. His three-point shooting, much like the previous game, was stellar once again, and finished the game making four of his five attempts. Unfortunately for the Tar Heels, Ingram fouled out in the fourth quarter thanks to an offensive foul that may or may not have been excellent acting by the Wildcats. This was essentially the beginning of the end for the Tar Heels.
Two more Tar Heels that were able to put a lot of points on the board were Cormac Ryan and RJ Davis. Despite scoring 23 points, Davis still struggled to be efficient during the Battle 4 Atlantis event. He finished his afternoon knocking down 36% of his field goal attempts, and only made two of his eight three-point attempts. If the Heels want to have success moving forward, Davis has to find a way to be efficient, especially because of what happened in the last minute of overtime.
Which brings us to Cormac Ryan: the Notre Dame transfer finished his night with 18 points off 7-12 shooting. He played with a lot of fire all afternoon, and was +7 in the plus/minus column. He has brought a lot of toughness and grit to a team that just last year failed to show as much, and Hubert Davis has to be pleased with what he has gotten out of him so far. However, on his final free throw of the night, Ryan tried to miss the basket on purpose, and ended up injuring his right foot. It’s unknown how bad the injury is, but Hubert Davis did say after the game that he was walking around the locker room.
Hubert Davis doesn't have an immediate update on Cormac Ryan, but he said he's walking around in the locker room.— Jeremiah Holloway ✍ (@jxholloway) November 23, 2023
When looking at how the Heels lost this game, there are three things that doomed them: Eric Dixon, fouls, and Armando Bacot. Starting with Dixon, he was dominant all afternoon, bullying his way to the paint as much as humanly possible. He scored a season-high 34 points and also pulled down 10 boards, and it’s really a wonder that he didn’t do more damage than that. Bacot did a decent job making sure he didn’t get the ball in overtime, but by then the damage was done.
As far as the fouling goes, Dixon wasn’t the only one being extremely physical with the Tar Heels. Villanova loved playing a lot of ISO which involved players knocking the Heels around to get to the paint. To UNC’s credit, if this had happened last season this game would’ve been a blowout, but the team maintained composure as well as one could’ve expected for not having played a team that physical prior to today. Still, UNC fouled 30 times, and the Wildcats shot 36 free throws to the Heels’ 23. It’s very hard to win games with that kind of ratio, but once again, the fact that the Heels only lost by two with that in mind is kind of impressive.
Finally, there was the performance from Armando Bacot. The big man has had a really hard time getting his offense going this week, and why that’s been the case is anybody’s guess. He had the size advantage against Villanova, yet he only managed to score eight points. If I’m Hubert Davis, I would be having a long conversation with Bacot to figure out what is making him so reluctant to use his size and strength to command the ball in the paint and get to the rim. Some of his shots were missed at point-blank range mostly because he just didn’t go up strong enough. It’s hard to think that things won’t improve, but it’s also hard to ignore the fact that his lack of toughness in the paint contributed to the Heels’ loss.
For what it’s worth, UNC’s first loss of the season feels a lot different that last year’s Alabama 4OT fiasco. Maybe that’s me being gullible, but this year’s team has already shown a lot of promise in multiple facets of the game. We knew this team wasn’t going to be undefeated, and if we’re being honest, we knew there was a decent chance they’d lose a game in the Bahamas. All they can do now is shake it off, regroup, and get ready for the loser of the Memphis/Arkansas game.