In a pro-Clemson crowd at Littlejohn Coliseum, one voice stood out above all the others.
As the Tar Heels were battling toward a two-point win on the road, one extremely vocal UNC fan could be heard clearly on the TV broadcast chanting “Defense” every time Clemson had the ball.
It took less than 20 minutes of game time for social media to identify the culprit — none other than Carla Black, mother of UNC senior Leaky.
“I got on my phone after the game and saw ‘Leaky’s Mom’ was trending,” Black said. “She’s like that every game. She just happened to be right behind the announcers this time, so everyone got to hear it. But that’s just been my life since I’ve been playing basketball.”
He has clearly been listening to Mom. Black has established himself as one of the best defenders in the ACC this season.
His victims read like a who’s who of the conference’s scoring leaders list. Georgia Tech’s Michael Devoe is third in the ACC at 18.6 points per game. With Black on him, he shot 6 of 13 for 15 points in the first game, then 1 of 2 for two points and six turnovers in the rematch.
Right behind Devoe is NC State’s Dereon Seabron, at 18.2 points. Black held him to 1 of 6 for two points.
Duke freshman Paolo Banchero scored five of the Blue Devils’ first eight points, hanging two early fouls on his defender, UNC big man Armando Bacot. That’s when coach Hubert Davis made a switch and put Black on the 6-foot-10, 250-pound Banchero. Despite giving up two inches and 50 pounds, Black held Banchero to 3-of-11 shooting and eight points the rest of the way, far below his 17-point average.
“I feel like I can guard everyone, one through five,” Black said.
Davis has been vocal about Black’s value as a defender — not Leaky’s mom vocal, but effusive nonetheless.
“I am so proud of Leaky,” Davis said early in the season. “More than probably anyone on the team, he has settled into his role the quickest and the best. He’s really taken pride in being a really good defensive player.”
Later in the season, Davis declared, “I can’t think of anyone in the country who is playing as well as he is on the defensive end.”
Davis has also declared that Black should be the ACC’s Defensive Player of the Year and predicted that he’ll have a role in the NBA as a defensive specialist.
His teammates have also noticed.
“The team highly appreciates Leaky,” RJ Davis said. “For him to guard the best (perimeter scorer) every night and do a great job on them, making it tough for them to make shots, making them frustrated, that’s something that goes around the locker room and something that we notice.”
A player often gets the title of defensive specialist in large part because he doesn’t contribute much on the offensive end. Black seemed destined for that fate as well. He’s averaged just 5.0 points per game over his career, including 4.7 points this season.
“I feel like I’m very comfortable with my role, honestly,” Black said earlier this season. “We obviously have a lot of guys that can shoot the ball and can score it in many different ways. I don’t have to do much on that end. I just have to do my job to get them open. On the other end, that’s where I kind of pick up my role and take pride in that and try to be a leader.”
After guard Anthony Harris and wing Dawson Garcia were lost for the season, however, Black saw his role change. With fewer options on the roster, Black needed to step up as a contributor on the offensive end as well.
Of his 112 points scored on the season, he’s scored half — 56 — over the last seven games, including three double-figure scoring games. He’d had just three in his previous 42 games. He’s hit eight of his 15 3-point attempts over that span after hitting just 2 of 10 threes up until that point this season.
“I feel like my confidence has always been there,” Black said. “I’ve never been the type to force anything. I just let the game come to me. Lately, I’ve had my opportunity to step up, and I’ve been hitting the shots.”
If anything, Black’s offensive emergence has caused him to find another level on the defensive end. Against Louisville, Davis said, “Everybody that was hot on the perimeter, we switched him (to cover). I told him the other day, I’m trying to find a way to divide him into three so I can put him on three perimeter players.”
And, of course, if Black forgets his primary role, there’s a loud voice somewhere in the stands who will continue to remind him of what’s important.