North Carolina needs to be nudged before it’s engaged. Sometimes this season, it has come from facing a double-digit deficit. Other times, it’s been from hearing head coach Hubert Davis telling them they’re playing soft.
On Wednesday night against Michigan, it was the shin or knee of 7-footer Hunter Dickinson jabbing into Caleb Love as he lay on the floor, that got the Tar Heels going.
Carolina went on a 19-6 run after the play and held off a late run for an 80-76 win in the Jumpman Invitational in Charlotte’s Spectrum Center.
Love was fouled on a drive and as Dickinson stood over him, his extra push with his leg prompted Love to stand and confront him. That brought Michigan guard Dug McDaniel over and UNC’s Armando Bacot and shoves were exchanged, but no punches thrown.
Michigan coach Juwan Howard was quick to come onto the floor to help diffuse the skirmish that happened in front of their bench. Davis was busy dealing with his bench to make sure no UNC players came onto the court.
When all was clear, the officials gave technical fouls to Dickinson and McDaniel for the Wolverines and Love and Bacot for the Heels.
Michigan led 26-22 before the incident. Afterward though, Carolina knocked down three 3-pointers and Bacot added six points as it took a 41-34 lead into halftime.
The run may have been coming regardless of Dickinson’s provocation.
Davis was pretty animated on a couple possessions prior when officials did not call a foul when Bacot was struck in the face while scoring a basket. Although blood was visible in Bacot’s mouth, no foul was called proving the old adage to be false.
Bacot dominated his matchup with Dickinson, scoring a game-high 26 points on 11-for-15 shooting. It was Bacot’s third game in the last four — all UNC wins — that he’s scored 20 or more points.
Dickinson finished with just nine points and eight rebounds before fouling out. The Wolverines’ best defense against Bacot came thanks to him picking up his fourth foul with 6:46 left in the game. With Bacot sidelined, Michigan pulled within 69-66 when Duke transfer Joey Baker made a 3-pointer with 3:37 left.
Bacot reentered the game and immediately scored and was fouled to make it a two-possession game. But as was the case much of the game, Bacot missed his free throw that would have converted a three-point play.
The Heels entered the game shooting 75 percent from the free=throw line, but made just 15-of-27 attempts against Michigan.
It allowed the Wolverines to stay close in a game that otherwise would have already been put away, and they pushed Carolina down the stretch because of it.
Michigan’s Terrence Williams II made a 3 that made the score 71-69 with 2:17 left. But the Heels wouldn’t allow them to get any closer.
When R.J. Davis made a bank shot and Love added a pair of free throws, Carolina led 77-71 with 36 seconds left and finished off the win.