By R.L. Bynum
CHAPEL HILL — You would never know watching Carolina play Friday night that first-year coach Hubert Davis is emphasizing and rewarding good defense.
Between Brown’s back-door layups, easy drives and open perimeter shots, his message clearly didn’t translate to their play on the court for most of this game. UNC shot well but, for much of the night, the Bears got anything they wanted offensively.
Brown (1–1), which shot 50.7%, finally cooled off and made only five of its last 18 shots as No. 19 Carolina (2–0) hung on for a 94–87 victory Friday night at the Smith Center behind 51.6% shooting.
“We’ve got to get better on the defensive end. We just weren’t good at all,” Davis said. “We can score better than anybody in the country. Where we need to improve is on the defensive end. So, I’m so glad we went through this tonight.”
RJ Davis and Armando Bacot wanted no part of losing to an Ivy League team and helped push the Tar Heels to victory. Davis had some huge 3-pointers down the stretch and scored a career-high 26 points. Bacot carried the Heels for a long stretch and finished with 22 points and 10 rebounds, his 19th career double-double.
Coach Davis wasn’t having any suggestions that the Bears were getting lights-out shooting.
“Tonight, they were getting layups. They were just taking us,” he said. “They were driving on us, and it wasn’t just one person. It was everybody.
“It’s not okay if your man scores on you,” Hubert Davis said, explaining his message to the team. “Have a defensive mindset to make sure that if somebody scores on you, they don’t score again, and that we want to be individually and as a team great on the defensive end. Tonight, for the most part, we weren’t, especially in the first half. They were taking it to us, and it was layups. It was straight-line drives. Our guys were gambling on the defensive end instead of staying solid. Once we started to play defense solid, that’s when we were able to get stops.”
The gambling didn’t produce turnovers as Brown five turnovers were the second-fewest by an opponent in Smith Center history. UNC’s seven turnovers were the sixth-fewest in a Smith Center game.
The UNC student section chanted RJ Davis’ name in the final minute. Davis, whose 11 assists through two games (6 on Friday) are the most since Theo Pinson did it in the 2017–18 season, attributed the defensive lapses to poor communication.
“I think, going into the second half, we just kept talking about getting stops and remaining calm,” Davis said. “We didn’t have to force anything and we just had to run our offense. It was mostly about the defensive end and just taking pride in guarding our man, getting a couple of stops and working from there.”
Bacot said UNC can learn a lot from Friday’s game.
“We made a lot of mistakes on the defensive end, and that’s something that we can grow on and practice and just learn from,” said Bacot, who shot 10 of 11 with a career-high field-goal total. “I mean, it was just good just to be in a dogfight early in the season that way. Later on toward the end of the season, we’ll kind of have some experience in those type of situations.”
Best field-goal percentage by Tar Heel in Smith Center
100%, Scott Williams — 12 for 12 vs. Virginia, Jan. 13, 1990
92.9%, J.R. Reid — 13 of 14 vs. N.C. State, Jan. 18, 1987
92.3%, Scott Williams — 12 of 13 vs. Pepperdine, Jan. 6, 1990
90.9%, Armando Bacot — 10 of 11 vs. Brown, Friday
90.9%, Scott Williams — 10 of 11 vs. Georgia Tech, Feb. 28, 1990
90.9%, Joe Wolf — 10 of 11 vs. Georgia Tech, Jan. 25, 1986
Davis was 6 of 9 from 3-point range, the most 3-pointers by a UNC player since Cole Anthony had seven 3-pointers against Syracuse on Feb. 29, 2020. His career-high six 3-pointers were the eighth-most by a Tar Heel in the Smith Center and most since Brandon Robinson’s six against Miami on Jan. 25, 2020.
His six 3-pointers and nine field goals were career-highs.
“I wanted to come into this game with a lot of positive energy and just play my game,” Davis said. “I didn’t want to predict the outcome or try to put too much pressure on my mind. Just to come in and let the flow of the game take care of itself and I think that’s what happened tonight.”
Three consecutive Dawson Garcia baskets, two Brady Manek free throws and a Manek bucket in a 10–2 run gave UNC a 72–70 lead with 9:44 left. It was Carolina’s first lead since a one-point edge with 6:36 remaining in the first half.
A pair of RJ Davis 3-pointers gave Carolina the lead for good at 81–79 with 6:19 left, and his 3-pointer with 1:37 left pushed the lead to 88–82.
“I was proud of the way they responded,” Hubert Davis said. “We didn’t panic, particularly in the second half. One of the things throughout time outs I kept saying to them is relax and just calm down. Let’s get back to doing what we’ve been practicing and stay solid and we’ll be more than fine.”
An 11–0 run gave Brown a 41–34 lead. A pair of RJ Davis 3-pointers helped UNC tie it at 47, but the Bears’ Aaron Cooley hit a 3-pointer at the buzzer to give Brown a 50–47 halftime lead.
UNC got consecutive stops only once in the first half.
Leaky Black, who collected seven points, four rebounds and three assists in his second consecutive start, said that UNC was forcing some difficult shots.
“They were tough shots, shooting floaters from like the free throw line and stuff,” Black said. “They were going in at a high rate but that’s a tough shot. So, at the end of day, we are able to deal with it but they started missing him down the stretch.”
Caleb Love had another solid game with 13 points, five assists and only one turnover.
Love and Davis were both on the court together for the final 26:36 of the game. Love played 37 minutes and Davis 36, not the playing time you would expect against an Ivy League team.
Kerwin Walton scored five points in 16 minutes, his first time he has played fewer than 20 minutes since playing 12 minutes against N.C. State on Dec. 22 of last season.
UNC shot 42.9% from 3-point range (9 of 21). The Tar Heels shot better than than only four times last season, all victories.
Dan Friday, with a lethal one-handed push shot, led Brown with 21 points and Nana Owusu-Anane added 20. Paxson Wojcik, the son of former UNC assistant coach Doug Wojcik, scored 14.
The Tar Heels play their first road game of the season at 8:30 Tuesday night against College of Charleston (CBS Sports Network), which meets their opening-night opponent Loyola Maryland on Saturday night. The Cougars (2–0) defeated Lipscomb at home Friday night 86–77.
No. 19 UNC 94, Brown 87
UNC lineup combinations
|Date||Scores, record/day, time, TV||Location||Opponent|
|5||83–55 exhibition win||Home||Elizabeth City State|
|9||83–67 win||Home||Loyola Maryland|
|12||94–87 win, 2–0||Home||Brown|
|16||Tuesday, 8:30, CBSSN||Road||College of Charleston|
|20||Saturday, 4, ESPN News||Uncasville, Conn.||Y – Purdue|
|21||Sunday, 1 or 3:30, ABC or ESPN||Uncasville, Conn.||Y – Tennessee or Villanova|
|23||Tuesday, 7, RSN||Home||UNC Asheville|
|1||Wednesday, 9:15, ESPN||Home||X – Michigan|
|5||Sunday, 3, ESPN||Road||Georgia Tech|
|11||Saturday, 8, ACCN||Home||Elon|
|14||Tuesday, 7, ESPN2||Home||Furman|
|18||Saturday, 3, CBS||Las Vegas||UCLA|
|21||Tuesday, 7, ACCN||Home||Appalachian State|
|29||Wednesday, 7, ESPN2||Home||Virginia Tech|
|1||Saturday, noon, ACCN||Road||Boston College|
|5||Wednesday, 9, ESPN2||Road||Notre Dame|
|8||Saturday, 1, ESPN||Home||Virginia|
|15||Saturday, 8, ACCN||Home||Georgia Tech|
|18||Tuesday, TBA, ESPN||Road||Miami|
|22||Saturday, 8, ACCN||Road||Wake Forest|
|26||Wednesday, RSN||Home||Boston College|
|29||Saturday, 2, ACCN||Home||N.C. State|
|31||Monday, 7, ESPN||Road||Louisville|
|5||Saturday, 6, ESPN||Home||Duke|
|8||Tuesday, 9, ESPN or ESPN2||Road||Clemson|
|12||Saturday, 2, ESPN or ESPN2||Home||Florida State|
|16||Wednesday, 8, ACCN||Home||Pittsburgh|
|19||Saturday, 4, ESPN or ESPN2||Road||Virginia Tech|
|21||Monday, 7, ESPN||Home||Louisville|
|26||Saturday, 2 or 4, ESPN or ESPN2||Road||N.C. State|
|28||Monday, 7, ESPN||Home||Syracuse|
|5||Saturday, 6, ESPN||Road||Duke|
X — ACC/Big Ten Challenge; Y — Hall of Fame Tip-Off; Z — CBS Sports Classic
Photo via @UNC_Basketball