UNC found itself in a tightly contested, back and forth battle against College of Charleston on Friday night.
The Tar Heels trailed the Cougars for just over 18 minutes and were down as much as seven points in the game. In the first half especially, Charleston responded to each bucket UNC scored to lessen the lead, but in the second period, the Tar Heels regained control and momentum, pulling away for the 102-86 win.
Most of the Tar Heels' success in the victory was due to the second half turnaround from senior forward Armando Bacot Jr. In the first 20 minutes, he was abysmal, and the No. 1 team found itself on upset watch. In the last 20, he played lights out and contributed greatly to UNC running up the score.
Bacot, a large presence in the paint as a rebounder and defender, couldn't get anything going to start the game. Throughout the first half, it seemed as if Bacot was confused about the game plan, allowing smaller Charleston players to snag rebounds and convert layups in the paint. He also was as least aggressive as ever by attempting and missing only one FG and recording one rebound in the 14 minutes he played in the period.
Charleston earned 24 of its 50 first half points in the paint and outrebounded UNC 21 to 17. The visitors were met with little resistance from Bacot, who often failed to stop close range buckets, and allowed their players to outhustle him for offensive rebounds, creating second-chance opportunities.
Despite Leaky Black, Caleb Love and R.J. Davis having respectable first periods, UNC trailed 50-43 at halftime. They needed Bacot to carry his weight on the interior in order to win, which included affecting the Cougars' attempts at the rim and limiting their number of possessions on the boards.
Bacot responded like the preseason ACC player of the year he is, exploding for 27 points, five rebounds and two blocks on 10-12 shooting in his final 19 minutes of play. Love was the last UNC player to score more than 25 points in a half, recording 27 second half points against UCLA in the 2022 sweet sixteen.
The 6'11'' anchor became more aggressive in his point of attack on both ends of the floor in the second half while also running the floor to put himself in position to score in transition. He also earned more opportunities at the line with multiple chances for three-point plays.
Had Bacot started the game with the intensity he brought to the final period, things likely would've been less close between the Tar Heels and the Cougars. Charleston just couldn't find an answer for the big man down the stretch, allowing UNC to hold on for the victory.