CHAPEL HILL — Armando Bacot tied his career high by scoring 29 points for the second straight game, the first time a North Carolina player has done that since Tyler Hansbrough in 2007-08. RJ Davis bounced back from a disastrous 0-for-10 shooting performance against Virginia last week by going 8 of 11 with four 3-pointers.
And yet, all anyone associated with the North Carolina basketball team could talk about after Saturday’s 88-65 dismantling of Georgia Tech at Smith Center was the play of Leaky Black.
That might seem strange considering the senior wing finished with only one basket in the lopsided victory — until you take a glance at Michael Devoe’s line on the Yellow Jackets’ side of the boxscore.
The ACC’s second-leading scorer at just over 20 points per game coming in, Devoe managed only two against the Tar Heels, going just 1 of 5 from the floor with six turnovers while being hounded by Black for most of the night.
“There’s nobody in this conference that’s a better individual defender than Leaky Black,” said UNC coach Hubert Davis, whose team improved to 12-4 (4-1 ACC). “Every game his assignment is to play the best offensive player on the perimeter. He loves that challenge and he’s been fantastic.
“For him defensively, it’s fun to watch. Michael Devoe is one of the better guards in the country and he did a great job defensively. To hold him to 1 of 5 field goal attempts, zero assists and six turnovers is just absolutely unbelievable.”
Black gave assistant coach Jeff Lebo’s defensive game plan credit for his success in frustrating Devoe, saying that the idea was simply to “make things as difficult for him as possible.”
As good as the design might have been, Black was the one who executed it to perfection.
With the help of backup Justin McKoy, he didn’t just keep Devoe from scoring. He did such a good job of keeping the ball out of his hands that the Tech star was barely able to simply get a shot off.
Devoe’s only basket came seven minutes into the second half. By then, the Tar Heels’ lead was an insurmountable 59-36 and Devoe’s frustration had already passed the breaking point.
“I think it was around the second half, he kind of grabbed my leg,” Black said. “They called a foul on me, but I just knew at that point what we had done.”
Black wasn’t the only one that stood out on defense for UNC, an area that has been its Achilles’ heel in its four losses this season.
It was a team effort that limited the Yellow Jackets (8-8, 1-5) to a 3-of-14 effort from 3-point range, held Tech without an offensive rebound for the first 30 minutes while building a 42-26 overall advantage on the glass.
Devoe’s teammate Tristan Maxwell, who scored 22 points on Wednesday in a win against Boston College, went scoreless Saturday while missing all six of his field goal attempts in 23 minutes.
“I was really proud defensively of our team,” Hubert Davis said. “Heading into this game, the area we talked about most was transition defense. Georgia Tech is great in transition. We talked about matching up, how important it was to communicate and talk, and I thought we really did a good job of that as well.”
While the Tar Heels were making it difficult on Tech to score, they had little trouble putting the ball in the basket themselves.
For that they can thank the foursome of Bacot, Davis, Caleb Love and Brady Manek, who between them scored 75 of their team’s first 77 points.
Davis got the ball rolling by peppering Tech’s zone defense with a pair of early 3-pointers on his way to a 21-point performance. It was his first 20-plus point game since an earlier win against the Yellow Jackets in Atlanta on Dec. 5.
But neither that game nor the dismal shooting performance he endured in his most recent outing served as motivation for the sophomore sharpshooter, whose 16 first-half points helped UNC sprint out to a 42-26 halftime lead.
“Coming into this game, I knew I was capable of making shots, so it was more of moving on to the next one,” RJ Davis said. “Once I saw one go in (the basket) and then another, I found my groove and I just kept it going.”
When it comes to being in a groove, no one on the Tar Heels has been feeling it more lately than Bacot.
The junior big man went 10 for 16 from the floor, made all nine of his free throws and pulled down 12 rebounds for his seventh straight double-double and 12th this season in an effort that reinforced his coach’s assertion that he should be the ACC Player of the Year.
“When I’m playing at this high a level, I can definitely be the best player in the ACC,” Bacot said. “It was great that we won, but I’m not satisfied. I’m happy with the performance but I want to win, so I’m not going to just hang my hat on one game. I want to keep continuing.”
Bacot and the Tar Heels will have a chance to do that on Tuesday when they travel to Miami to take on one of the hottest teams in the ACC on the road.