UNC returns to full strength with Dawson Garcia, Kerwin Walton back against Georgia Tech

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  • Dawson Garcia
    American college basketball player
  • Hubert Davis
    American basketball player
North Carolina forward Dawson Garcia shoots over Furman forward Jalen Slawson, right, during the Tar Heels’ victory last month in Chapel Hill.
North Carolina forward Dawson Garcia shoots over Furman forward Jalen Slawson, right, during the Tar Heels’ victory last month in Chapel Hill.

CHAPEL HILL — North Carolina figures to be whole again with forward Dawson Garcia and guard Kerwin Walton expected to return for Saturday night’s visit from Georgia Tech in Atlantic Coast Conference basketball.

First-year coach Hubert Davis said Friday the sophomores have participated in practice sessions and individual workouts, and the Tar Heels are planning to be back at full capacity in terms of player availability for the first time since Dec. 21.

“Dawson and Kerwin will play tomorrow,” Davis said Friday. “They practiced yesterday. They’ve done practices and individual workouts this entire week, and I’m really excited to have them back and out there on the floor.”

North Carolina (11-4 overall, 3-1 ACC), coming off a six-day break between games, can secure a regular-season sweep of Georgia Tech (7-8, 1-4) on Saturday night at the Smith Center. It’s a matchup that features the league’s second-leading scorer in Yellow Jackets guard Michael Devoe (20.5 points per game), and the league’s top rebounder in North Carolina forward Armando Bacot (11.2 per game).

North Carolina’s Kerwin Walton, left, and Brady Manek, right, try to prevent Kentucky’s Keion Brooks Jr. from grabbing a rebound last month in Las Vegas.
North Carolina’s Kerwin Walton, left, and Brady Manek, right, try to prevent Kentucky’s Keion Brooks Jr. from grabbing a rebound last month in Las Vegas.

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Garcia had been a starter alongside Bacot in the Tar Heels’ frontcourt, until missing the last two games — North Carolina’s loss at Notre Dame last week and victory against Virginia last weekend — and all but a third game due to a concussion suffered during the opening two minutes of the Tar Heels’ blowout win at Boston College on Jan. 2.

The reserve Walton was unavailable for the Notre Dame and Virginia games due to COVID-19 protocols. He became the second North Carolina player affected by COVID issues this season, after forward Justin McKoy missed the Boston College victory and Notre Dame loss while in health and safety protocols.

“I expect them to be out there on the floor and to play the way that they have been all season,” Davis said Friday, referring to Garcia and Walton and Saturday night’s game. “We really missed them. We missed them at Notre Dame. We missed them even though we played really well against Virginia. Both of those guys bring so much and add so much value to this team on both ends of the floor, so just to have them available back in the lineup, whether they come off the bench or whether they start, they make our team much better.”

North Carolina forward Dawson Garcia drives on Michigan Wolverines forward Moussa Diabate, left, during the Tar Heels’ win last month.
North Carolina forward Dawson Garcia drives on Michigan Wolverines forward Moussa Diabate, left, during the Tar Heels’ win last month.

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Brady Manek, North Carolina’s sixth man when Garcia has been in the lineup, has averaged 15 points per game and 5.7 rebounds across the last three games, while shooting 47.4 percent from the field and 8-for-21 from 3-point range. He provided 17 points and seven rebounds at Boston College, and 19 points and five assists against Virginia.

And Bacot has been at his wrecking ball best during Garcia’s absence, delivering 18 points and 11 rebounds at Boston College, 21 points and 17 rebounds at Notre Dame, and 29 points and 22 rebounds against Virginia, all while connecting on 67.5-percent shooting from the field.

Boston College big man Quinten Post, a 7-foot, 240-pounder, effectively sat on Garcia’s head on Jan. 2 amid a scramble for a loose rebound. Manek checked in for Garcia at the 18:01 mark of the first half that day and Garcia never returned. Davis said afterward team athletic trainer Doug Halverson reported Garcia “was experiencing headaches and it was getting worse throughout the first half.”

Tip-off

Who: Georgia Tech (7-8, 1-4) at North Carolina (11-4, 3-1)

When: 8 p.m. Saturday (ACC Network)

Where: Smith Center, Chapel Hill

Series: North Carolina leads 70-27, including 30-6 in Chapel Hill and 25-5 at the Smith Center. The Tar Heels won 79-62 last month at Georgia Tech in the ACC opener for both teams.

Up next: North Carolina plays at Miami, the league’s first-place team, on Tuesday night. That starts a stretch of five games in 12 days for the Tar Heels.

Adam Smith is a sports reporter for the Burlington Times-News and USA TODAY Network. You can reach him by email at asmith@thetimesnews.com or @adam_smithTN on Twitter.

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This article originally appeared on Times-News: UNC basketball: Dawson Garcia, Kerwin Walton return vs. Georgia Tech

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