If there were any doubts about North Carolina senior Isaiah Hicks’ health coming into the game against Virginia on Saturday, they were quickly erased.
The 6-9, 242-pound forward, rose for a dunk so high – with 18:14 left in the first half – that it looked like he was looking down at the rim when he reached his peak in the air.
He slammed in two of his 10 points as the crowd rose to its feet in the No. 10 Tar Heels’ (23-5, 11-3 ACC) 65-41 win over the Cavaliers (18-8, 8-6).
“Glad to see Isaiah is starting to look more like himself again,” UNC coach Roy Williams said. “He’s feeling better right now.”
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This was Hicks’ second game back since injuring his hamstring on Feb. 8 while he was running a fast-break drill in practice. He ended up sitting out in the Tar Heels’ 86-78 loss to Duke the next night.
“It wasn’t good,” Hicks said of having to sit out. “I feel like I could have helped the team out a little bit.”
Since that loss, the Tar Heels, first in the ACC, have won two straight, both by 24 points.
Hicks said he no longer feels hampered by the injury.
“It feels better,” he said. “Completely better, honestly. Out there running and stuff, I don’t feel it.”
Hicks finished the game with 10 points and eight rebounds
“Just having him out there is more effective than having him on the bench,” junior guard Joel Berry said. “He plays hard. He gets to the backboards, and he just does his job.
“So with him out there, it just gives us another option.”
Hicks averages 12.6 points and 5.4 rebounds per game and shoots 61 percent from the floor. The down-low pressure from Hicks and senior forward Kennedy Meeks helped open the floor for the guards.
Virginia double-teamed the post whenever Hicks and Meeks (6-10, 260) got the ball. Because of that, the two big men were able to kick the ball out and find the open man. Senior forward Justin Jackson was the beneficiary of many of those double teams.
Jackson scored 18 points in the first half and finished with 20 points total.
Junior wing Theo Pinson said having Hicks takes the pressure off other players on defense. He said Hicks can guard players smaller than him, which makes it so Jackson and Pinson don’t have to fight over screens. With Hicks, the two can just switch.
“I think that definitely could have helped us a lot at Duke, but God already made his will, and he didn’t want him to play,” Meeks said with a smile. “It’s unfortunate that he wasn’t there. I’m pretty sure it would have been a different outcome if he was.”