Winning at ACC Tournament emotional for Hubert Davis, who respects the tradition

By R.L. Bynum

NEW YORK — You’d have trouble finding a coach with more love and reverence for the tradition of the ACC Tournament than Hubert Davis.

Tar Heels great Walter “Sweet D” Davis, his uncle, played in it for Carolina and won titles in 1975 and 1977. The first-year UNC head coach was part of the March tradition as a player and got plenty of experience as a UNC assistant coach at the event for nine seasons.

He already knew how special the event was. But taking the court with his No. 25-ranked Tar Heels as the head coach brought his experience up to a new level.

“It was really emotional,” said Coach Davis, who conveyed those feelings to his No. 3-seed team before its 63–43 thrashing of No. 6-seed Virginia in the quarterfinals at Barclays Center on Thursday night. 

“I just told them that this was a big deal to me. It’s significant,” he said. “I just was really excited and very thankful and humbled to be in this position at the ACC Tournament. I love this tournament, and I have so many great memories watching and being a player and now as a coach.”

Davis knows what it feels like to cut down the nets as a player, which he did with a pair of championship-game victories over Duke (77–74 in Atlanta in 1989 and 96–74 in Charlotte in 1991). He talked about his joy in his players creating a big memory for themselves with the Tar Heels historic upset at Duke on Saturday. They’re two wins away from more big moments with an ACC title.

Hubert Davis directs practice in Brooklyn on Wednesday. (photo via @UNC_Basketball)

Carolina, with a season-long six-game win streak and victories in 12 of its last 14 games, will go for its third victory of the season over No. 7-seed Virginia Tech (20–12) in a 9:30 semifinal Friday night. No. 1-seed Duke (27–5) faces upstart No. 4-seed Miami (23–9), with the Blue Devils trying to avenge a regular-season loss to the Hurricanes, in the first semifinal at 7 p.m.

Given how inconsistent Carolina has been this season, some wondered how the team would play after the big upset at Duke. Since the Pittsburgh loss, though, the Tar Heels team has shown up at every game playing with intensity and has looked nothing like the earlier, unpredictable iteration.

“So many people had asked, ‘How are you going to bounce back’ and ‘How are you going to adjust after the emotions from the game this past Saturday?’ And I just didn’t understand that. It was an emotional game; but it was just a game,” said Davis, adding that the team’s focus was on Virginia. “That’s where we are. We don’t look at things that are outside of our control, and we don’t look at things in the past. We focus on what’s in front of us, and now what’s in front of us is playing an extremely good Virginia Tech team that we’ve played twice this year.”

Although the Tar Heels won both games, 78–68 in Chapel Hill on Jan. 24 and 65–57 on Feb. 19 at Virginia Tech (see box scores below story), neither game was easy and both were physical battles. It will be important for Armando Bacot to win battles inside with Tech’s Keve Aluma and Hunter Cattoor and stay out of foul trouble.

“From an offensive standpoint, they just have a lot of movement,” Davis said. “They’ve got great spacing and balance. They’re an outstanding 3-point shooting team. But they also have two guys that can score consistently down low on the block, and both of those guys are outstanding passers. So, automatically it puts you into making a choice; do you double-team the post or do you stay at home with the shooters. They’re just a very difficult team to match up with.”

Brady Manek, who scored 21 points and three 3-pointers in the quarterfinal victory over the Cavaliers, is prepared for a challenging night.

“Yeah, their bigs are good, they’re solid,” he said. “They play hard, they play well together. Seen a lot of videos of them, played them recently. Just them being two really good teammates down low, and they both are big factors in [Friday’s game], so we just need to lock in and play hard.”

The Hokies have a lot of perimeter shooters to contend with. Starters Cattoor (40.2% from 3-point range) and Storm Murphy (36.2%) are dangerous shooters as are reserves Darius Maddox (52.2%) and Sean Pedulla (46.3%).

“For the guards, I feel like they really can shoot the ball and they capitalize on our mistakes, so we’ve really got to be disciplined in guarding them,” Leaky Black said.

Virginia Tech’s guards know it will be hard to get much offense going against Black’s defense. If they had any doubt, they could just ask veteran Virginia guard Kihei Clark, who could never get the Cavaliers going.

Another solid defensive effort by Carolina against the Hokies will probably mean a title-game appearance for the Tar Heels on Saturday night against either Miami or Duke.

Box from first UNC-VT game

Box from second UNC-VT game

ACC Tournament bracket

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