On Saturday afternoon, Ky Bowman’s red hair made a return to Conte Forum. So, too, did his shooting stroke.
After scoring a combined 13 points in his last two games, the freshman point guard erupted for 33 points, including seven 3-pointers, against No. 9 North Carolina—the school he was originally committed to for football.
With his team trailing 27-17 midway through the first half, Bowman took over the game. The two-time ACC Freshman of the Week drilled a corner three, then hit another triple a minute later. On the next trip down the court, Bowman drove strong to the hoop, drawing a foul and finishing the bucket. On the other end, he picked Tar Heel guard Nate Britt’s pocket and streaked down the court for an easy slam, putting the exclamation mark on a single-handed 10-0 run that tied the game at 27-27.
But as hard as Bowman tried to will his team to victory, it wasn’t enough for the Eagles (9-11, 2-5 Atlantic Coast) against one of the most talented teams in the country. North Carolina (18-3, 6-1) used a combined 56 points from its lethal starting frontcourt to escape Conte Forum with a 90-82 win.
In the first half, graduate transfer Mo Jeffers did a stellar job protecting the paint in spite of a noticeable size disadvantage. The 6-foot-9 forward finished with five rebounds, three blocks, and a steal, along with altering several other shots near the rim. Thanks to its interior defense, BC allowed no double-digit scorers in the first half and only trailed 34-33.
Ironically, it was when the Tar Heels switched to a smaller lineup that the Eagles struggled to rebound. Instead of playing the two-headed monster of Isaiah Hicks and Kennedy Meeks together, UNC head coach Roy Williams alternated between them, opening up the lanes for his quick guards to penetrate. In turn, the Eagles’ help defense often left the offensive boards ripe for put-backs.
“When they had Hicks and Meeks in there, there was a little less space,” head coach Jim Christian said. “We had a tougher time guarding when they went small because of the space for [Justin] Jackson, the space for [Joel] Berry.”
During a key sequence late in the second half, the Tar Heels extended their lead from three to seven points thanks to back-to-back tip-ins by Theo Pinson. It began a stretch during which UNC earned offensive rebounds on four straight possessions. Consequently, the Tar Heels owned advantages in second-chance points (15-5) and points in the paint (24-20).
But a brilliant second half from Jerome Robinson largely offset much of the domination down low by UNC. The North Carolina native put up 13 points after halftime, maintaining momentum with Bowman on the bench for a brief spell.
Ultimately, it was the hot perimeter shooting of Jackson and Berry down the stretch that made the difference for the Tar Heels. Jackson drained three 3-pointers in the second half, all of which seemed to come right as BC was knocking on the door. With 1:13 left and the game separated by just two possessions, Berry provided the dagger, a 3-pointer that pushed the UNC lead to nine.
“Justin Jackson might be the most improved player in the country,” Christian said. “Those threes he hit deep? He didn’t have that consistently last year.”
Despite the loss, the performance is certainly a step in the right direction for the Eagles, which entered the game with their star backcourt in recent slumps. With 51 combined points, it’s safe to say that Robinson and Bowman are slumping no more.
And about that lucky red hair of Bowman’s?
“The black hair will never be back,” Christian said. “Even my son, who’s seven years old, said, ‘Don’t ever let him go back.’”
Featured Image by Keith Carroll / Heights Staff