Davis seeks validation against Jackets, the nation’s leading scorer

By R.L. Bynum

To Carolina coach Hubert Davis, validation comes after success.

The success came with Carolina’s impressive 72–51 victory Wednesday in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge against No. 24 Michigan. But it won’t mean as much if the Tar Heels don’t follow that up in their ACC opener at 3 p.m. Sunday at Georgia Tech (ESPN2) in a battle of 5–2 teams.

“To validate a win, you have to play as well, and you have to win the next game,” Davis said. “In terms of validating our effort and our attention to detail and how well we played on both ends of the floor. You validate that by the way that you play against Georgia Tech.”

Whether that validation comes in Atlanta will have a lot to do with carrying over the terrific defensive effort Davis got against the Wolverines. Specifically for this game, the focus will be on stopping senior guard Michael Devoe (in top photo driving against Carolina last season).

The 6–foot-5, 191 pound Devoe leads the country in scoring (25.0 per game) and 3-point shooting percentage (59%) and leads the ACC in 3-pointers (3.83 per game). Devoe leads the Yellow Jackets in assists (fourth in the ACC at 4.3), steals (1.5) and shoots 76.7% from the free-throw line.

Davis said that Devoe, a left-handed shooter, is playing better than any guard in the country with his ability to shoot mid-range jumpers and 3-pointers, finish at the basket and distribute the ball either from the two spot or at point guard.

“Offensively, he’s in a rhythm that I haven’t really seen much at all in terms of [shooting] from 3-point range, getting to the free-throw line, being able to distribute,” Davis said. “He’s aggressive. He’s not a stand-still, spot-up shooter. He’s not a guy who just is coming off of screens.”

Devoe scored a career-high 37 points in an 88–78 win Nov. 19 at Georgia and 33 points Wednesday in the Jackets’ 70–66 home loss in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge against No. 23 Wisconsin. Devoe played all 40 minutes against the Badgers, scoring five 3-pointers.

“He can score off the bounce or he can score off the catch and they’re looking for him every possession on the offensive end,” Davis said. “They’re looking for ways for him to get open, for him to create. He has the minutes, he has the green light and he has the giftedness to be able to do it.”

That defensive assignment will likely fall to Leaky Black, but Davis mentioned that Caleb Love and freshman Dontrez Styles might also take turns defending him.

In three games against the Tar Heels, Devoe has only scored in double figures once — 20 points in last season’s only meeting. The Jackets won 72–67 in another December game in Atlanta. 

Devoe scored four in a 96–93 win Jan. 4, 2020, at Carolina and nine in a Jan. 29, 2019, 77–54 home loss to the Tar Heels.

Perimeter shooting could play a big role in the game. Carolina is second in the ACC in 3-point shooting percentage (41.5%) and 3-pointers (8.71 per game) while the Yellow Jackets are third (40.6%) and 10th (7.14) in those categories.

In addition to Devoe being a dangerous shooter, 6–6, 215-pound freshman wing Dallan “Deebo” Coleman is shooting 55% from 3-point range (11 of 20).

Although Georgia Tech likes to get out in transition, the Jackets have a way of being deliberate once they get into their half-court offense and making the tempo slower than UNC prefers.

“Once the defense is set, they’re methodical in terms of running their offense and getting the shot that they want,” Davis said. “I think they’re really good in transition from a defensive standpoint when they’re able to get steals and deflections and they also want to force you into long 3-point shots up against a shot clock. 

“They do an excellent job rebounding one through five, and from an offensive transition standpoint, that they can get out in transition faster than anyone,” Davis said.

Coach Josh Pastner’s teams are known for a lot of Princeton-style offense with every player cutting and moving, which makes defending the Jackets a challenge.

“When you have gifted offensive players who can shoot the ball from outside, that poses problems for you. But we’re pretty good, too,” Davis said.

Atlanta seemingly is full of landmines for Carolina in every sport going back to the Tar Heels’ loss to Marquette at the Omni in the 1977 NCAA championship game. It’s been like that for men’s basketball of late.

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Coach Roy Williams had the lowest winning percentage of any Carolina coach against Georgia Tech at 15–11. Davis said that the reason UNC hasn’t done as well in recent years against the Jackets is simply that the reigning ACC champions have been good.

“They’ve been great defensively,” Davis said. “They change up and keep you off-balance on the offensive end because they change their defense on multiple possessions, whether they’re playing zone or a matchup zone or man-to-man.”

Davis is following nearly all of the same routines for road games that Williams used — with one exception. The team will quickly head to McCamish Pavilion when it arrives in Atlanta for a 30- to 45-minute shooting session.

“One of the things that I always believed in is for our guys to get used to the lighting, get used to the surroundings and the rims and the gym,” Davis said. “And that gives us an opportunity to do that on Saturday night. And so that might be different than something that Coach Williams would have done, but that’s what we’re going to do [Saturday].”

The feeling that shooting at the game site ahead of time is helpful isn’t new for Davis. He was one of the best shooters in Carolina basketball history and that’s something he liked to do as a player.

“I always wanted to get into the gym earlier the day before,” Davis said. “If there was no shootaround, I would wake up early in the morning, just get extra time out there on the floor. I think it’s always good to feel comfortable. From an offensive standpoint, it’s all about rhythm. When you’re going into a new arena or a new gym, new surroundings, it’s about rhythm. It’s about feel, and the more you feel comfortable out there on a floor, I think the better you are on offensive end.”

It’s always a challenge for players playing in the middle of the final exam period, which started Friday at UNC, giving the Tar Heels plenty to deal with this weekend in Atlanta.

UNC season statistics

Georgia Tech season statistics

DateScore, record/day, time, TVLocationOpponent
November (4–2)
583–55 exhibition winHomeElizabeth City State
983–67 win, 1–0HomeLoyola Maryland
1294–87 win, 2–0HomeBrown
1694–83 win, 3–0RoadCollege of Charleston
2093–84 loss, 3–1Uncasville, Conn.Y — No. 2 Purdue
2189–72 loss, 3–2Uncasville, Conn.Y — No. 13 Tennessee
2372–53 win, 4–2HomeUNC Asheville
December (1–0)
172–51 win, 5–2HomeX — No. 24 Michigan
5Sunday, 3, ESPN2RoadGeorgia Tech
11Saturday, 8, ACCNHomeElon
14Tuesday, 7, ESPN2HomeFurman
18Saturday, 3, CBSLas VegasZ — No. 5 UCLA
21Tuesday, 7, ACCNHomeAppalachian State
29Wednesday, 7, ESPN2HomeVirginia Tech
January
1Saturday, noon, ACCNRoadBoston College
5Wednesday, 9, ESPN2RoadNotre Dame
8Saturday, 1, ESPNHomeVirginia
15Saturday, 8, ACCNHomeGeorgia Tech
18Tuesday, TBA, ESPNRoadMiami
22Saturday, 8, ACCNRoadWake Forest
26Wednesday, RSNHomeBoston College
29Saturday, 2, ACCNHomeN.C. State
31Monday, 7, ESPNRoadLouisville
February
5Saturday, 6, ESPNHomeNo. 1 Duke
8Tuesday, 9, ESPN or ESPN2RoadClemson
12Saturday, 2, ESPN or ESPN2HomeFlorida State
16Wednesday, 8, ACCNHomePittsburgh
19Saturday, 4, ESPN or ESPN2RoadVirginia Tech
21Monday, 7, ESPNHomeLouisville
26Saturday, 2 or 4, ESPN or ESPN2RoadN.C. State
28Monday, 7, ESPNHomeSyracuse
March
5Saturday, 6, ESPNRoadNo. 1 Duke
8–
12
ACC TournamentBrooklyn
RSN — regional sports networks; ACCN — ACC Network; X — ACC/Big Ten Challenge;
Y — Basketball Hall of Fame Tip-Off; Z — CBS Sports Classic

ACC pool photo

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