Ky Bowman originally committed to UNC to play football. Then, UNC basketball head coach Roy Williams got a call.
“Several years ago, Larry Fedora–my recruiting guy–called me and wanted to know if I would let a football player play basketball,” said Williams. “I said yes and he said that there was a guy from Havelock, N.C. that they were recruiting really, really hard. I’ll tell Larry that he needs to do a daggum better job recruiting.”
It was clear following BC’s game against the Tar Heels just how much Williams lamented losing that recruit in his own state.
“For a while tonight it was the Ky Bowman show. He was unbelievable,” said Williams.
In BC’s 90-82 loss to UNC, the Eagles’ freshman finished with a career-high 33 points, 21 of which came in the first half. Bowman went seven for nine from the 3-point line.
Late in his senior year of high school, Bowman rescinded his football commitment from UNC upon professing his love for basketball. But that didn’t make the nostalgia of playing his home-state team any less intense. The point guard—whose cousin played for UNC and who cheered for UNC his whole life—decided to “let go of everything” before game time.
Whatever weight Bowman let go of, the Tar Heels picked up. Bowman lit up a sold-out Conte Forum from the gate, draining a three in the corner to get BC on the board within seconds of tipoff.
Bowman went on to record five more threes throughout the first half. Just when UNC started pulling away with its biggest lead at 27-17 with 6:18 remaining in the half, he responded by scoring the next ten consecutive points to tie things up for the first time all game.
UNC’s Justin Jackson then pushed the Tar Heels ahead once again, posting six points as the clock wore down to go up, 34-30, with 15 seconds left in the half. But an explosive three by Bowman from the baseline made it a one-point game at the half, 34-33, and sent the BC student-section—donned in red wigs to resemble Bowman’s fire-red hairdo—erupting in cheers.
While Conte Forum might have been stunned by Bowman’s performance at the half, Jim Christian was not.
“I know that in a game like this, he’s gonna be really good. He’s a catalyst and he’s a very confident player, so nobody on our team’s surprised...that’s how he plays,” said Christian.
Then the second half came around. A well-guarded Bowman was a little less explosive, but Jerome Robinson—who was in foul trouble in the first—began to heat up, leading BC scorers in the second half with 13 points. Down-low, Mo Jeffers and Garland Owens worked to retrieve a combined ten rebounds over UNC’s Kennedy Meeks and Isaiah Hicks.
But when Jeffers had to be subbed out for foul trouble, Kennedy Meeks, who finished with 20 points and nine rebounds, found his stride––ultimately indebting the Eagles with his (and Isaiah Hicks’) offensive rebounds.
“In the second half we let the ball be driven downhill. First half they couldn’t get downhill, we were cutting the ball off. Second half the ball was driven downhill. The offensive rebounding opportunities for those guys cost us the game,” said Christian of UNC, who tallied 20+ second-chance points.
Jeffers hit a jumper with 2:13 left in the game to bring the lead within four at 76-72. Shortly after, however, two free-throws made by the Tar Heel’s Theo Pinson followed by a deep three from Joel Berry II sealed the fate for the Eagles. With Berry II’s three, UNC took its largest lead of the half, 81-72, with just over a minute remaining.
What followed in the final minute was a rare scene. Eagles fans stayed glued to their seats even as UNC pulled away by as much as eleven points in the last 60 seconds—a testament of (long-awaited) approval, and one of much deserved praise for a team that left its heart out on the floor.
“I’m proud of everybody’s effort—but not surprised by any of it,” emphasized Christian.
“This is who we are. This is who we’ve been. The challenge for us is that this is who we are and we need to stay here.”