RJ Davis’ intensity, savvy was key to UNC’s historic upset

By R.L. Bynum

DURHAM — Years from now when you talk some of the most outstanding games by a Carolina point guard, it won’t be a complete discussion without including RJ Davis’ play in the historic victory Saturday night against No. 4 Duke.

Davis played all 40 minutes and showed the savvy of a veteran in making excellent decisions. Even though he was the shortest player on the court, he somehow battled taller players who are future NBA stars and slithered his way to the hoop for either a basket or a good pass.

In Carolina’s 94–81 victory over No. 4 Duke to ruin Coach Mike Krzyzewski’s final game at Cameron Indoor Stadium, Davis tied his career-high with nine field goals and collected 21 points, two 3-pointers, five rebounds, four assists, two steals and a block.

It was his step-back 3-pointer at the end of the first half that cut Duke’s lead to 41–39 by halftime. The Tar Heels (23–8) trailed by nine points with 3:52 left in the first half and the game could have easily slipped away.

“We’re just a resilient team,” Davis said. “When we get knocked down, we get right back up. Shout out to all my teammates from the starting five to the bench. This is a tremendous win for us.”  

Davis wasn’t intimidated by 6–10 freshman star Paolo Banchero, figuring out a way in the first half to slip between him and Theo John for a slick underhanded driving layup. Davis whipped by Banchero on another first-half drive.

He beat Banchero on another drive with 4:30 left in the game to give the Tar Heels a 77–71 lead. Two minutes later, Davis drove to the lane but quickly faced with a double-team from Banchero and Trevor Keels. He kicked it out to the left wing to Brady Manek, whose huge 3-pointer made it 82–74.

A sign of a locked-in player is making a fabulous play on the offensive end and hustling back on defense and moving on to the next play rather than showing a lot of emotion or immediately flexing.

Davis repeatedly showed that mindset on Saturday night. He saved the celebrating for when the game ended.

“We came out in the second half, ready to compete, we executed down the stretch,” Davis said. “Everyone did their part and then we just dug in. Everybody stayed together. And I think that was how we were able to overcome it.”

His passing was outstanding as well, coming up with the perfect bounce pass early in the second half to get the ball past Banchero and in to Armando Bacot for a dunk. His fast-break layup despite heavy pressure from Wendell Moore Jr. tied it with 9:46 left.

Ultimately, Davis said that the key was the team ignoring the hype around Krzyzewski’s final home game and focusing on getting the job done and continuing the positive ascent of the Tar Heels’ season.

“This is definitely motivation,” Davis said. “We all knew the potential of this team and how good we are. It was more about just ignoring all the distractions that were in our way and just staying true to who we are and fighting for each other. I think we could build off this win.”

Davis, like other Tar Heels, were as happy for Hubert Davis as anybody considering all of the criticism that has been leveled at the first-year coach through some of the team’s inconsistent play over stretches of the season.

His coach isn’t on social media but RJ Davis knows what was being said.

“It means mean a lot, especially for his first year,” RJ Davis said of his coach. “I’m so happy for him. You know, a lot of outside noise going on. He’s just been having a blindfold on and not really worried about what people say, what comments have been said.

“We knew the work we put in,” RJ Davis said. “HD coached a phenomenal game, and we played a great game. We executed that. We were able to get the loose balls and I think our toughness showed.”

With the No. 3 seed at the ACC Tournament in Brooklyn, UNC has an easier path to the championship. But you can bet that RJ Davis doesn’t see it that way and will bring the intensity every minute.

ACC Tournament bracket

DateScore, record/
day, time, TV
(current rank)
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. 8 Purdue
2189–72 loss, 3–2Uncasville, Conn.Y — No. 13 Tennessee
2372–53 win, 4–2HomeUNC Asheville
December (5–1, 1–0 ACC)
172–51 win, 5–2HomeX — Michigan
579–62 win, 6–2, 1-0 ACCRoadGeorgia Tech
1180–63 win, 7–2 ACCHomeElon
1474–61 win, 8–2 ACCHomeFurman
1898–69 loss, 8–3 ACCLas VegasZ — No. 7 Kentucky
2170–50 win, 9–3 ACCHomeAppalachian State
January (6–3, 6–3 ACC)
291–65 win, 10–3, 2-0 ACCRoadBoston College
578–73 loss, 10–4, 2-1 ACCRoadNotre Dame
874–58 win, 11–4, 3–1 ACCHomeVirginia
1588–65 win, 12–4, 4–1 ACCHomeGeorgia Tech
1885–57 loss, 12–5, 4–2 ACCRoadMiami
2298–76 loss, 12–6, 4–3 ACCRoadWake Forest
2478–68 win, 13–6, 5–3 ACCHomeVirginia Tech
2658–47 win, 14–6, 6–3 ACCHomeBoston College
29100–80 win, 15–6, 7–3 ACCHomeN.C. State
February (7–2, 7–2 ACC)
190–82 OT win, 16–6, 8–3 ACCRoadLouisville
587–67 loss, 16–7, 8–4 ACCHomeNo. 4 Duke
879–77 win, 17–7, 9–4 ACCRoadClemson
1294–74 win, 18–7, 10–4 ACCHomeFlorida State
1676–67 loss, 18–8, 10–5 ACCHomePittsburgh
1965–57 win, 19–8, 11–5 ACCRoadVirginia Tech
2170–63 win, 20–8, 12–5 ACCHomeLouisville
2684–74 win, 21–8, 13–5 ACCRoadN.C. State
2888–79 OT win, 22–8, 14–5 ACCHomeSyracuse
March (1–0)
594–81 win, 23–8, 15–5 ACCRoadNo. 4 Duke
— ACC Tournament —
10Thursday, 9:30, ESPN or ESPN2BrooklynVirginia, Louisville or Georgia Tech
X — ACC/Big Ten Challenge; Y — Basketball Hall of Fame Tip-Off; Z — CBS Sports Classic

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