Defending without fouling remains work in progress for UNC after rough outing against BC

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UNC coach Hubert Davis signaled to Armando Bacot that the graduate student had picked up his third foul, just 1:53 into the second half. Bacot responded with a thumbs-up. Some coaches might have benched Bacot — Davis probably would have last year — but he trusted the veteran.

Bacot played 17 minutes without committing another foul. He contributed 10 points, nine rebounds, one assist, two blocks and a steal in UNC’s 76-66 road win over Boston College (11-7, 2-5 ACC).

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“That’s his maturity. He’s a veteran guy. He’s been in a lot of situations. He’s played with foul trouble before, and that’s him being a leader,” graduate student Cormac Ryan said. “He knew his time was coming, and we needed him to win this game and we needed him to make big plays down the stretch. He did. He was huge for us in the second half, both defensively and offensively. He was really mature about staying in it mentally and emotionally.”

Davis emphasized for weeks the importance of out-rebounding opponents. With that lesson seemingly learned — the Heels led in their six previous games — they shifted their focus to cleaner defense.

“A big piece for us is to be able to dominate points in the paint, attack the basketball, post penetration, offensive rebounding, and allow us to get to the free-throw line,” Davis said Friday. “But can we defend consistently and defend without fouling and putting teams on a free-throw line? That’s a battle that we want to win every game.”

UNC (15-3, 7-0 ACC) struggled with a disciplined defense against BC. That was evident from the eye test, but the numbers back it up.

The Tar Heels finished with 26 personal fouls. Five players recorded three or more, with Ryan and Bacot committing four each.

This number soars past the 15.6 foul average in the last five games. UNC committed 12 in the first half.

Four UNC players finished with two fouls in the first half alone, including Bacot. Those fouls sent Boston College to the line, where it made 9 of 11 shots. The Eagles shot 25 of 29 for the game.

Quentin Post finished with 18 points. He scored eight at the charity stripe.

“I picked up some stupid fouls. I thought I should have [done] a better job of just being smart and not really bailing them out,” Bacot said. “I thought all game we really bailed out Quentin Post. He’s a great player, but we can’t let him go to the free-throw line that much.”

Ryan said he felt like the fouls, and subsequent free throws, were due more to discipline than officials calling the game close.

“There were a few times we just got caught in a tough position, with our hands in, being a little extra physical or overrunning something,” Ryan said. “We cleaned that up, [were] more disciplined and tried to keep them off the foul line.”

Carolina’s opponents have averaged just 17.2 free-throw attempts in the previous five games. Bacot said the foul trouble, especially on him, not only hurt the offense but helped the Eagles. Those freebies made the score much closer than the Heels would have liked.

Between the roster depth — some of its bench guys had fouls to give — and maturity, though, UNC pulled off its eighth straight win. It became the third team to beat the Eagles at home, joining N.C. State and Wake Forest.

Sure, there’s clearly more work to be done, but the Heels can celebrate this victory.

“It’s been a group effort from everyone. It hasn’t just been one player. Everybody has been stepping up in their own way,” Bacot said. “There’s been a lot of fun because we’ve all been doing it together.”