By R.L. Bynum
FORT WORTH, Texas — When Hubert Davis said early in the season that the goal for his first North Carolina team was a national championship, it seemed a little far-fetched to many observers.
After holding off reigning national champion, No. 1 seed and fourth-ranked Baylor in overtime 93–86 in the second round of the NCAA tournament on Saturday at Dickies Arena, his Tar Heels are making believers of the college basketball world.
With some of the best passing of the season as a team and a career-high 30 points from RJ Davis, No. 8-seed UNC (26–9) played like a title contender and heads to the Sweet 16 of the Eastern Regional in Philadelphia on Friday night.
UNC plays No. 4-seed UCLA (27–7) in their third tournament meeting (time and TV TBA). The No. 4-seed Bruins beat No. 5-seed St. Mary’s 72–56. It’s the first time in the Sweet 16 since 2019 when UNC lost to Auburn in Kansas City. It’s the 37th Sweet 16 appearance for the Tar Heels.
Coach Davis could sense his team was earning a big-time win, clapping hard and looking as enthusiastic on the sidelines as he has all season.
“In a big-time moment, big-time situations, they stepped up on both ends of the floor,” Coach Davis said. “But, again, the thing that brings me such great joy is the thing that I desperately wanted for all of these guys the entire season, is for them to have their own stories and testimonies and memories of playing in big-time games and coming up big in that Carolina uniform.”
In the two weekend wins, 83.3% of UNC’s field goals were assisted (51 of 62).
RJ Davis was dazzling all afternoon, scoring 17 of his points and four of his five 3-pointers in the first half.
Brady Manek scored at least 20 points for the fifth time in the last six games with 28 points and four 3-pointers before being ejected for a flagrant-two foul with 10:08 left in regulation. He elbowed Jeremy Sochan in the face inadvertently. Since a fight wasn’t involved, the officials did not release a statement about the play.
“When he got ejected, we were trying to regroup and just tell everybody to keep their composure. There was a lot of time left, but we knew we could do it,” Leaky Black said.
The only other UNC players to score at least 26 points in consecutive NCAA games before Manek did it are Lennie Rosenbluth (1957), Phil Ford (1977), J.R. Reid (1987) and Michael Jordan (1983 and 1984).
RJ Davis is the second UNC player with 30 points in a game against a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament since seeding began in 1979, joining Al Wood, who did it against Virginia in a national semifinal in 1981. He’s the only player in Carolina program history with 10 assists in one game and 30 points in the next.
Armando Bacot had yet another double-double with 15 points and 16 rebounds to extend his single-season school record to 27. Black and RJ Davis both had six assists.
“You just had two teams that were fighting and scratching and kicking and clawing on every pass, every rebound, every cut, every shot, every free throw,” Coach Davis said. “And when that happens, at times, physicality happens.”
UNC had to weather foul trouble and Baylor’s best shot to pull off the win after blowing a 25-point lead in the last 11 minutes.
“They consistently started to press us, and that bothered us,” Coach Davis said. “It did two things to us: One, it sped us up and made us make uncharacteristic plays; and the other thing, it made us turn the ball over.
“And we knew that Baylor’s so good defensively [and it’s big to take] care of the basketball,” he said. “And so up to probably the ten-minute mark, we did a really good job of taking care of the basketball.”
And, for a team with a short bench most of the season, the Tar Heels did it with RJ Davis and Black as the only starters on the floor for some of the final minutes of regulation with Manek and Caleb Love out. It was a challenge without Manek, who was a game-high +26.
A 20–4 Bears run cut its lead to 11 with 5:22 remaining in regulation. A Matthew Mayer 3-pointer with 3:30 left trimmed it to 73–67 with 3:30 left but RJ Davis responded with three free throws with 2:37 left, pushing the lead back to nine.
“It was just crazy because their press,” Bacot said. “They were turning us over a lot and then we weren’t making free throws. So, there was a lot of pressure in those moments. But it was just a next-play mentality and we just really had to dig in and just keep pushing and just keep a level head. And luckily, we came out with a win.”
UNC wins against No. 1 seeds
1981 — Virginia in a national semifinal
1982 — Georgetown in national championship
1990 — Oklahoma as an 8 seed in second round
1993 — Michigan in national championship
1995 — Kentucky in regional final
2000 — Stanford as an 8 seed in second round
2005 — Illinois in national championship
2017 — Gonzaga in national championship
2022 — Baylor as an 8 seed in second round
A Dale Bonner 3 and a driving three-point play by Akinjo with 1:48 left cut the lead to three. Armando Bacot responded with a huge 3-point play 11 seconds later to push the lead to six.
After Souchan banked in a 3-pointer with 28 seconds left to make it 80–77, Bacot missed two free throws. James Akinjo’s three-point play tied it with 15.8 seconds left.
RJ Davis missed a long jumper at the end of regulation.
Baylor had all the momentum heading into overtime but Dontrez Styles’ corner 3-pointer gave UNC a quick OT lead and a Bacot free throw pushed the lead to four. A pair of Mayer free throws, a Sochan bucket tied it before Bacot made two free throws.
“Their press gave us a little bit of trouble,” RJ Davis said. “It was just more about having different outlets to get the ball in. You know, I think Justin, Armando, Trez did a good job of creating space to get open and that was able to get us down and get easy baskets on the offensive end.”
Leaky Black’s bucket with 1:55 left and RJ Davis’ 3-point play with 1:18 remaining pushed the lead to six and put the game away.
“We wanted to get to the next round,” RJ Davis said. “So, at that point, I wasn’t even tired. I had a mindset of just gathering my teammates together and regrouping and telling them to contain our composure and let’s get this win.”
The Tar Heels hustled to grab most of the loose balls and played with more passion than Baylor (26–6) until the final 10 minutes.
Styles is suddenly giving the Tar Heels important minutes off the bench. He scored a pair of big second-half baskets in addition to that huge overtime 3. Styles said that the coaching staff trusted him in a big situation in a huge game.
“I put in a lot of work after practice, before practice, [and the coaches] just trusted that. I think Coach Davis was trusting me to go out there and perform,” Styles said.
When he played 15 minutes in the 95–63 first-round win Thursday against Marquette, it was his first double-digit-minutes game since playing 10 against Pittsburgh. He scored a season-high nine points in a season-high of nearly 25 minutes Saturday to give him only six games all season with at least 10 minutes.
Coach Davis said it was a perfect example of why he tells his players to be ready for their opportunities.
“The thing I can’t guarantee is when, where, how and the manner in which it will come,” Davis said. “The only thing that you are required to do is when that opportunity comes, to be ready. And Justin [McKoy] and Dontrez were ready.”
McKoy hit two big free throws and three rebounds in nearly 10 minutes.
“He told us, I’d say, a thousand times at practice, that we’re going to be in big moments and we need to be ready,” McKoy said. “And, so, each practice, we drilled it. And just being ready to step up, having their support all season just in my ear, having me ready, it made it easy to step up.”
RJ Davis went 1 of 10 Thursday against Marquette but got off to a hot start after Baylor took an early four-point lead, scoring eight consecutive points in a 14–2 UNC run.
A Davis 3-pointer capped an 8–0 Tar Heels run to push the lead to 24–10 with 11:29 left in the first half. Baylor trimmed the lead to seven on an Adam Flagler jumper with 5:32 left. But UNC shoved it back to 14 on a 9–2 run that Davis capped with another 3-pointer and led 42–29 at halftime.
RJ Davis started a 12–0 second-half run with a 3-pointer and Manek’s 3 finished it to give UNC a 23-point lead with 12:24 remaining.
Flagler scored eight points and two 3-pointers in an 11–0 Baylor run to trim the Tar Heels’ lead to 67–53 with 8:26 remaining. Styles ended the run with a big inside bucket.
Flagler paced Baylor with 27 points and Akinjo added 20.
After Love’s big 23-point game against Marquette, he fouled out with five points against Marquette.
The officials called 51 fouls in a game that lasted two hours, 49 minutes.
UNC 93, Baylor 86, OT
At Dickies Arena
Fort Worth, Texas
Baylor 85, Norfolk State 49
North Carolina 95, Marquette 63
At Moda Center
Saint Mary’s 82, Indiana 53
UCLA 57, Akron 53
At Gainbridge Fieldhouse
St. Peter’s 85, Kentucky 79, OT
Murray St. 92, San Francisco 87, OT
At Fiserv Forum
Purdue 78, Yale 56
Texas 81, Virginia Tech 73
At Dickies Arena
Fort Worth, Texas
North Carolina 93, Baylor 86, OT
At Moda Center
UCLA 72, Saint Mary’s 56
At Gainbridge Fieldhouse
St. Peter’s 70, Murray St. 60
At Fiserv Forum
Purdue 81, Texas 71
At Wells Fargo Center
Friday, March 25
St. Peter’s (21–11) vs. Purdue (29–7), 7:10, TBS
North Carolina (26–9) vs. UCLA (27–7), 9:40, TBS
Sunday, March 27
At Wells Fargo Center
Semifinal winners, TBA
time, day, TV
|5||83–55 exhibition win||Home||Elizabeth City State|
|9||83–67 win, 1–0||Home||Loyola Maryland|
|12||94–87 win, 2–0||Home||Brown|
|16||94–83 win, 3–0||Road||College of Charleston|
|20||93–84 loss, 3–1||Uncasville, Conn.||Y — No. 10 Purdue|
|21||89–72 loss, 3–2||Uncasville, Conn.||Y — No. 5 Tennessee|
|23||72–53 win, 4–2||Home||UNC Asheville|
|December (5–1, 1–0 ACC)|
|1||72–51 win, 5–2||Home||X — Michigan|
|5||79–62 win, 6–2, 1-0 ACC||Road||Georgia Tech|
|11||80–63 win, 7–2 ACC||Home||Elon|
|14||74–61 win, 8–2 ACC||Home||Furman|
|18||98–69 loss, 8–3 ACC||Las Vegas||Z — No. 7 Kentucky|
|21||70–50 win, 9–3 ACC||Home||Appalachian State|
|January (6–3, 6–3 ACC)|
|2||91–65 win, 10–3, 2-0 ACC||Road||Boston College|
|5||78–73 loss, 10–4, 2-1 ACC||Road||Notre Dame|
|8||74–58 win, 11–4, 3–1 ACC||Home||Virginia|
|15||88–65 win, 12–4, 4–1 ACC||Home||Georgia Tech|
|18||85–57 loss, 12–5, 4–2 ACC||Road||Miami|
|22||98–76 loss, 12–6, 4–3 ACC||Road||Wake Forest|
|24||78–68 win, 13–6, 5–3 ACC||Home||Virginia Tech|
|26||58–47 win, 14–6, 6–3 ACC||Home||Boston College|
|29||100–80 win, 15–6, 7–3 ACC||Home||N.C. State|
|February (7–2, 7–2 ACC)|
|1||90–82 OT win, 16–6, 8–3 ACC||Road||Louisville|
|5||87–67 loss, 16–7, 8–4 ACC||Home||No. 9 Duke|
|8||79–77 win, 17–7, 9–4 ACC||Road||Clemson|
|12||94–74 win, 18–7, 10–4 ACC||Home||Florida State|
|16||76–67 loss, 18–8, 10–5 ACC||Home||Pittsburgh|
|19||65–57 win, 19–8, 11–5 ACC||Road||Virginia Tech|
|21||70–63 win, 20–8, 12–5 ACC||Home||Louisville|
|26||84–74 win, 21–8, 13–5 ACC||Road||N.C. State|
|28||88–79 OT win, 22–8, 14–5 ACC||Home||Syracuse|
|5||94–81 win, 23–8, 15–5 ACC||Road||No. 9 Duke|
|— ACC Tournament —|
|10||63–43 win, 24–8||Brooklyn||Virginia|
|11||72–59 loss, 24–9||Brooklyn||Virginia Tech|
|— NCAA tournament —|
|17||95–63 win, 25–9||Fort Worth, Texas||Marquette|
|19||93–86 OT win, 26–9||Fort Worth, Texas||Baylor|
|25||9:40 Friday, TBS||Philadelphia||UCLA|
Photo via @UNC_Basketball