Well maybe it’s rivalry now.
As you may recall, last week, UNC’s Caleb Love said that he didn't see NC State as a rivalry, but as just another game.
Either way, when it came down to it, the Wolfpack - and Wolfpack Nation - clearly saw it as a rivalry game and played accordingly.
And the Tar Heels did not.
Armando Bacot had 16 points and 14 rebounds, but he only hit 6-14. And as good as he is on the inside, shooting 42 percent when basically all of your baskets come right around the rim is not good.
As Hubert Davis suggested, you mignt not measure Pete Nance’s contributions merely by his easily measurable stats. Point taken.
But his measurable stats haven’t been impressive and he wasn’t impressive Sunday either, shooting just 2-5.
As is so often the case for UNC, the guards let it fly. Caleb Love took 17 shots. He hit 4-8 on threes and 7-17 overall.
But RJ Davis really stunk it up, hitting 2-13. That’s 15.3 percent! And the kid can shoot!
But the guy we feel bad for is Leaky Black, who generally seems like a likable guy. He was there for the decline and retirement of Roy Williams. Watching him when someone - we think maybe Virginia Tech - hit a last second three to cut UNC’s heartout in 2019-20 - was almost painful (almost - he still plays for UNC).
Then he helped the Heels get back to the Final Four last year. His arc could have been to have helped get UNC back on track - and it still could be.
But it seems less and less likely.
Okay, enough on UNC, let’s talk State.
The game was pretty tight until fairly late. It was tied 60-60 with 6:02 left. And the Pack outscored UNC 17-9 down the stretch.
It was a triumphal close that may have exorcised a lot of demons, sucked out a lot of pus from the legendary NC State stuff.
And it was lurking too.
In the second half, Terquavion Smith crumbled to the floor for no apparent reason. Replay show that he got whacked in, as the Brits say, his bits and pieces. He was down briefly, which brought back memories of the scary situation in
Chapel Capel Hill earlier this season.
Turned out he was okay and he came back into the game and continued to excel.
The legendary NC State stuff took a whack at Ernest Ross too, who blew what would have been a major in-your-face celebratory dunk.
Wide open too.
And whatever you want to say about Love, he scored late to at least push State. But the Pack wasn’t having it. Not this time.
But the star of stars for the Pack Sunday was Jarkel Joiner, who lit up UNC for 29. He had told the broadcast crew that State had the best backcourt in the ACC. Virginia might argue that but there’s no arguing that State’s is damn good.
Any conversation about State has to dwell on DJ Burns. When Dusan Mahorcic went down with a knee injury in early December, we thought that was it for the Pack. We had no idea the roly-poly Burns could step up as he has. But the truth is that he might have surpassed Mahorcic anyway.
The funniest part of the game was probably after it was actually over. Remember the criticism for Bacot after the first game when he supposedly mocked Smith by wearing shades when he talked to the press?
Smith mocked him right back, putting on similar shades for one of the great trolls in recent ACC memory.
So maybe between the loss and the mockery, Love and company will see the next game as an opportunity for payback. Which, of course, is the genesis of all great rivalries.
With the loss, UNC falls to 16-11 and ninth place in the ACC, which puts them in NIT territory. Worse, there are not many impressive wins on the schedule and the only chances to get one now are at Virginia and then Duke in the season finale. The next game is at Notre Dame, and as noted here previously, the Irish are suddenly playing at a higher level. There’s also a trip to Florida State, but not much can come out of a win against FSU this season.
UNC may have to win its way into the NCAA tournament this year by blowing through the ACC Tournament. That won’t be easy either.
If the tournament were held today, the ninth seed has to play four games in four days to win and the second game would be against #1 Virginia. If UNC managed to move up to 8th place they still get Virginia. And if they finish in 7th, they’ll get Miami - assuming they beat the #10 seed in the opener.
And if the Heels fall further, they’ll be playing five games in five days.
Either way the path is daunting, not least of all because Davis, in a radical departure with his predecessor Williams, runs a very tight rotation.
Against NC State, the starters got 34, 22, 37, 40 and 34 minutes. It’s almost impossible to win five games in five days, let alone with no bench.
Davis is getting most of the heat to be sure, but he needs a little space. He’s trying to do a lot, frankly, starting with dealing with his current team. Like his old coach Dean Smith, Davis doesn’t curse, but you get the feeling that he’d like to. He clearly has some boneheads and his bench isn’t deep enough to threaten/punish them with reduced minutes.
He’s also trying to transition to a more NBA-like offense and, unlike Duke’s Jon Scheyer, he doesn’t have his own players yet. He’s still dealing with four starters that Williams recruited.
He is getting some traction on the recruiting trail, and in his brief play at Duke, we were impressed with Jalen Washington. He’s still recovering from a high school knee injury and we haven’t seen a lot of him, but he’s already got a more rounded game than Bacot, who is brutish in the paint but not much use outside of it (we saw this last year when Davis disastrously put him on Paolo Banchero to open the game in
Chapel Capel Hill and Banchero ate him alive, getting Bacot in very early foul trouble).
UNC fans, naturally, are disappointed. But what Davis is after is ambitious and will take some time. Whenever Love, who is a wildly promiscuous shooter, leaves, that will help. Bacot’s departure will hurt in some ways but not others.
We think Davis is going to be do well, but UNC’s transition was not as meticulously planned as Duke’s was. And while it wasn’t easy for young Scheyer to overhaul his roster and rely heavily on freshmen, he’s done well.
May the basketball gods (and Duke fans) forgive us for this: Davis is a very likable man. Unlike Smith, Williams, or the loathsome Matt Doherty, it’s hard to really dislike him. And he’s deeply in touch with the values that Tar Heel Nation loves and values.
This hasn’t been a great year for the Heels but the good times may be back soon. And with a little luck, we’ll see great programs in Durham, Raleigh and Chapel Hill, preferably in that order, which would be great for all three and not least of all for the ACC.
No games until Tuesday, when Virginia Tech gets a shot at derailing Miami and Georgia Tech goes to the Pete to submit to Pitt.
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