The sophomore forward learned just before tip-off that he would be starting for the first time since late November. By halftime, he had already tied his career high in points and set a new career high with six made free throws.
Hicks finished with a team-high 21 points on 7-of-10 shooting (7-of-11 FTs), exploding past his previous career high of 12 points (N.C. State on 1/14). He also set a career high with 28 minutes played.
Hicks entered Saturday’s contest as the primary post option off the bench, cementing his playing time on the defensive end of the floor. He leads the team in defensive player of the game awards – chosen by the coaching staff – with nine on the season, four more than Nate Britt.
“If you’re the defensive player of the game nine times in the first 23 games, you’ve been able to play basketball for us pretty well, anyway,” UNC head coach Roy Williams told reporters after the game. “But offensively, this was the best one for him.”
Hicks’s athleticism was too much at times for the Eagles’ bigs. He beat everyone down the court for a pass-ahead and dunk to give UNC its first double-digit lead at 55-45 with 12:06 to play, and then provided some breathing room after Boston College’s late rally with an offensive rebound and putback with 2:47 to play to increase the margin to seven.
“Real early, he was posting up too far off the block and we said, ‘Isaiah, if you work harder to get a little bit better position, they’re going to have a tough time handling you,’” junior guard Marcus Paige said. “That’s exactly what he did. He was a beast on the block.”
Hick said his offensive progression has been on and off, hot and cold, throughout the season. That hasn’t been the case defensively, though.
“The defensive side has always been on, because that’s something that you can easily control,” Hicks said. “Effort is all about you. You, your brain and your body. On the offensive side, it’s practicing, getting better at shooting and your favorite move or shooting jump shots.”
Hicks, who also grabbed five rebounds and committed four turnovers, became the sixth Tar Heel to lead the team in scoring through 24 games this season.
Hicks Shines in Starting Role
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