All of these feelings flow through Carolina fans today from the tips of their hair to the bottom of their heels. In a game mired by backbreaking turnovers and continued poor shooting, how do you pick a player of the game out of the ash heap?
Caleb Love, who got a technical foul on a made 3-pointer (in fairness, one where he got hit on the hand) and contributed to Jarkel Joiner’s season-high 29-point performance is out, despite leading UNC in scoring (23 points, 4-8 from distance).
Armando Bacot, who had another double-double (16 points and 14 boards) but surrendered a zero to three foul advantage in the first half over D.J. Burns with a push in the back on an offensive rebound and an attempted steal at the 3-point line, is out. Burns scored four straight times against Bacot to close the game (though to be fair, he may have gotten away with a charge on one of them).
The only player who contributed positively then is Leaky Black. Leaky had a typical Leaky box score: 9 points, 8 rebounds, 2 assists, and a block in 37 minutes. He tried to help Carolina run in transition, successfully getting a dunk on the break:
Leaky Black outraces the defense for the slam!@UNC_Basketball | #ACCMBB— ACC Men's Basketball (@accmbb) February 19, 2023
He was also quicker to pull the trigger from deep, hitting one of two 3-point attempts:
Leaky Black #ncaa #collegebasketball #basketball #unc #northcarolina #tarheels #mbb #cbb #acc #leakyblack pic.twitter.com/bUKirNQh0g— DEE BLACK (@deeblackmma3) February 19, 2023
But his biggest contribution was slowing down Terquavion Smith, one of NC State’s most dangerous weapons. Leaky was matched up with the shorter guard and used his wingspan and size to corral him in the paint, keeping him from getting to the rim or shooting in rhythm from downtown. Smith scored 12 points (6 below his season average) on an inefficient 5-16 shooting, most of that attributable to Leaky’s suffocating defense (and some of it to the phantom nut tap Pete Nance gave him, according to forensic video analyst Corey Alexander).
I’m always pleased to praise Leaky Black, love him as a young man and player. But if UNC wants to make the NCAA Tournament and make any noise, he cannot win anymore player of the game awards. He is too low-usage and not central enough to what Hubert Davis is trying to do on offense. Leaky can help move the project forward, but Armando Bacot and RJ Davis need to be the ones leading the charge. If not, yesterday’s performance is your likely outcome.