CHAPEL HILL — North Carolina hasn’t had guard Anthony Harris available for its last two games, and now will be without him for the rest of the college basketball season.
The Tar Heels said Friday that Harris won’t play in games through the reminder of the season, though he’ll continue to practice and participate in other team activities.
First-year coach Hubert Davis hasn’t elaborated on the specifics behind Harris’s absence, and the team only has listed him as unavailable, rather than out due to injury or COVID-19 protocols, for example.
North Carolina (12-5 overall, 4-2 Atlantic Coast Conference) plays at in-state rival Wake Forest (15-4, 5-3) in a league matchup on Saturday night.
Harris, in his third year at North Carolina, has been an energy source and defensive spark off the bench. He was averaging 2.6 points per game, shooting 48.1 percent from the field, and had scored in nine straight games for the Tar Heels, until turning up unavailable for last weekend’s lopsided victory against Georgia Tech. He then was unavailable for Tuesday night’s blowout loss at Miami.
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Hubert Davis said Friday a group of North Carolina’s lesser-used reserves such as freshman guard D’Marco Dunn, freshman swingman Dontrez Styles, sophomore swingman Puff Johnson, and junior forward Justin McKoy are in line to receive more playing time.
Harris was averaging 12 minutes per game off the bench on the season, and 16 minutes per game in his last five games. He scored five points apiece in the Tar Heels’ loss at Notre Dame (on Jan. 5) and convincing defeat of Virginia (on Jan. 8), and hit a 3-pointer in both games, but probably has been most valuable to North Carolina as a hard-nosed perimeter defender behind starting guards RJ Davis and Caleb Love.
“D’Marco and Dontrez and Puff and Justin have the opportunity to step up and play more minutes,” Hubert Davis said Friday. “The way that they have practiced and the way that they have prepared, I feel very confident of them being able to play well out there on the floor.
“But I do want to say, I love Ant. I love coaching him, I love being around him every day, I love him being a part of this team and a part of this program and a part of this university. I love Ant.”
Power forward Armando Bacot, the Tar Heels’ leading scorer and rebounder, echoed Hubert Davis’s remarks Friday, before North Carolina was scheduled to practice in Chapel Hill and then depart for Winston-Salem, ahead of Saturday night’s game against the Demon Deacons.
Bacot, the standout junior from Richmond, Va., said he has been playing alongside Harris, who’s from Woodbridge, Va., since their middle school days.
“It’s just kind of sad, we’ve been on the same team since the seventh grade,” Bacot said Friday. “He’s my roommate. He’s been my roommate since we’ve been here, my roommate when we go travel. So it’s definitely something that will be tough.
“Ant is one of those guys, the way he plays, he kind of lights a fire. Just how he plays, he’ll get a big steal, hit a big corner 3. Ant was one of those guys.”
Bacot said he challenged the Tar Heels’ backup guards, including Kerwin Walton, a starter last season, to increase their contributions with Harris no longer available off the bench.
“I went up to all of them, including Justin, too,” Bacot said Friday, “and just told them, like, ‘Yo, we need y’all to step up even more. Y’all should be trying to break the rims off in practice and really bring that fire, because the opportunity is there now.’ We need somebody to match his fire and really step up.”
Who: North Carolina (12-5, 4-2) at Wake Forest (15-4, 5-3)
When: 8 p.m. Saturday (ACC Network)
Where: Joel Coliseum, Winston-Salem
Series: North Carolina leads 163-67, including 55-32 on the road and 15-11 at Joel Coliseum. The Tar Heels have won the last two meetings, and eight of the previous nine games between the teams.
Up next: North Carolina plays host to Virginia Tech on Monday night in Chapel Hill, a rescheduled game after the Dec. 29 meeting between the teams was postponed due to COVID issues with the Hokies
Adam Smith is a sports reporter for the Burlington Times-News and USA TODAY Network. You can reach him by email at email@example.com or @adam_smithTN on Twitter.
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This article originally appeared on Times-News: UNC basketball: Anthony Harris’s absence opens up minutes for reserves