CHAPEL HILL, NC — North Carolina bid farewell to the Smith Center for the time being in an on-again, off-again manner.
The top-ranked Tar Heels showed high-level flashes and coasted along during other stretches while defeating James Madison 80-64 on Sunday afternoon, their last home game for the next three weeks.
Armando Bacot delivered 19 points and a career-best 23 rebounds, supersized production and the first double-double of the season from the Preseason All-American, and RJ Davis scored 21 points.
UNC (4-0) was able to subdue red-hot and previously unbeaten JMU (4-1), which arrived scoring 105.2 points per game, the second-highest clip in the nation. The Dukes had hung 106 points on Hampton, 97 points on Buffalo, and 95 points on Howard before meeting the Tar Heels, winning those three Division I matchups by an average margin of 36.3 points per game
Takal Molson’s 19 points paced four players in double figures for JMU, a new league member in the Sun Belt Conference. The Dukes shot just 34.8 percent from the field and had no answer for the 6-foot-11 Bacot’s energy around on the basket and on the boards. UNC had been out-rebounded by UNCW and College of Charleston during the new season’s early going, but piled up a 50-34 rebounding advantage against JMU. Leaky Black collected a career-best 12 rebounds.
North Carolina lost JMU’s Justin Amadi on defense in the closing seconds of the first half, and the open Amadi deposited a dunk. That put a minimal damper on perhaps the best half of the season for the Tar Heels, who led 45-26 at intermission.
JMU responded with a 12-2 run to start the second half, and the Dukes pulled within eight with 9:18 remaining. That was as close as they got. Davis fed Puff Johnson for a swish on a corner 3-pointer and then attacked for a driving layup that put UNC ahead 71-54 with about four minutes left.
Next, UNC encounters five straight games away from Chapel Hill — three tournament games over Thanksgiving in Portland, Ore., at the Phil Knight Invitational, followed by road assignments at Indiana (ACC-Big Ten Challenge matchup on Nov. 30) and Virginia Tech (ACC opener on Dec. 4). The Tar Heels don’t return to the Smith Center for a home game until Dec. 10, an ACC matchup against Georgia Tech.
Armando Bacot climbs all-time chart
By halftime Sunday, the senior Bacot had moved past UNC greats Antawn Jamison (1,027 rebounds) and Brice Johnson (1,035 rebounds) on the program’s all-time boards list.
Bacot grabbed 11 rebounds during the first half, climbing into sixth place in Tar Heels’ history. Kennedy Meeks, in fifth place with 1,052 career rebounds, is next up for Bacot, who finished Sunday at 1,048 rebounds for his college career.
Welcome back, Puff Johnson
Johnson made his season debut for UNC on Sunday, after missing the Tar Heels’ first three games due an issue the team has described as knee soreness.
The 6-8 forward was the first sub to check in, entering about 3½ minutes into the game and replacing Bacot. He was greeted by a warm ovation from the home crowd here. Three minutes of game time later, Johnson was part of a UNC lineup that included Bacot, Caleb Love, Leaky Black, and freshman guard Seth Trimble.
Johnson drew a charging foul on JMU’s Edwards during the concluding three minutes of the first half, while the Tar Heels stretched their lead as wide as 45-24. The previous time Johnson played in a college basketball game, he had 11 points and six rebounds off the bench in the NCAA championship game.
Next on the schedule
North Carolina meets Portland (4-2) on Thanksgiving day to open the Phil Knight Invitational. It’s the first of three tournament games for the Tar Heels in Portland, Ore., with a field that includes Iowa State, Villanova, Connecticut, Oregon, Alabama and Michigan State.
UNC doesn’t return to the Smith Center for a home game until Dec. 10, an ACC matchup against Georgia Tech.