UNC found itself in a tougher early-game situation than in most of its ACC games thus far against Boston College, with a plethora of good looks not falling for the Heels and leading to an early 12-6 hole that felt bigger than it actually was. It would have been easy to be frustrated and let things compound, but as has been the case so often this season, the Heels gritted their teeth and metaphorically muscled their way back into making the game even, and eventually taking a lead late in the first half that they wouldn’t relinquish. It came on the back of one of UNC’s most balanced offensive efforts to date, with 6 players scoring at least 8 points with none of them going over 16. So the headline wasn’t really about an individual impact on the game measured by stats this time — instead, the thought I saw echoed by UNC fans more than anything else after this game was that Harrison Ingram is well and truly the heart of this year’s Tar Heels.
Ingram had another statistically good game, recording UNC’s only double-double with 11 points and 13 rebounds (leading UNC), shooting 4/9 from the floor and 1/3 from distance. Those numbers maybe aren’t super impressive, but in a game where every point seemed like a struggle to get and no UNC starter shot over 50% from the field, they were vital. Even more vital was the timing of some of those points. A quick story: UNC gradually clawed back from that 12-6 deficit to take a 17-16 lead, and after some traded baskets, the Heels maintained a 3-ish point stiff-arm on the Eagles for most of the first half. Towards the end of it, though, BC made a run, taking a 31-30 lead with a minute to go in the half amid a 2-minute scoring drought for UNC. On UNC’s next possession, things looked like they were going nowhere, then Ingram got the ball about 15 feet out on the left wing, posted up, and hit a turnaround jumper that gave UNC a lead it would never relinquish. Another story: The second half consisted of UNC stretching their lead to 7 or 8, then, through a combination of BC buckling down and a healthy dose of refball, letting it close to about 4, then repeating. This kept going until the game had well under 4 minutes to go, when Ingram hit his first three of the game to put the Heels up 65-57. When the currency of the half had been close shots and free throws (the teams combined for 8 total three-pointers, five of which came in the first), Ingram’s shot felt like a dagger even with so much time left, and indeed, while BC got the margin back down to 5 on their next possession, they wouldn’t get closer, and eventually the Heels built the lead up to the final margin of 10 points.
Even beyond hitting timely shots, though, Ingram’s energy and hustle were tangible on the screen and felt like they gave his team what it needed to get through a scrappy game. And I haven’t even talked about his defense in the post, where he was the only UNC post player to not get in foul trouble even as he spent a lot of time around the defensive basket getting rebounds and contesting shots. Last game, I said it was ball movement that gave the Heels something to fall back on. This time, to me, that thing was just Harrison Ingram, and thus, he gets my vote for Player of the Game.
Like I said, it was a balanced game, so the honors could have gone to one of several players. R.J. Davis had a much more inefficient game than has been his norm, but still led his team with 16 points and added a couple of nifty assists for 4 total. Cormac Ryan had 14 points, a gutsy defensive effort, and played a group of whistle-happy officials with aplomb, which wasn’t the most aesthetically pleasing thing but was needed. And Elliot Cadeau continues to make more of an impact than his box scores indicate, leveling up his teammates — including a highlight-reel crossover into a lob assist for James Okonkwo to end the half on a high note.