CHAPEL HILL — An unexpected Ivy League test had North Carolina sweating out Friday night and RJ Davis proving up to the task, particularly during crunch time.
Davis poured in a career-high 26 points and Armando Bacot supplied 22 points, helping the No. 19 Tar Heels survive upset-minded Brown 94-87 in men’s basketball at the Smith Center.
The sophomore guard Davis delivered 14 points across the game’s final seven minutes, a clutch finish underlined by a pair of 3-pointers in the closing 96 seconds. Davis connected on a career-best six 3s altogether. He buried his last one with 43.1 seconds remaining, a sequence sparked by extra passing to set up Davis on the wing that moved North Carolina ahead 91-85.
Bacot grabbed 10 rebounds and nearly didn’t miss from the field, hitting 10 of 11 shots. Brady Manek added 14 points and eight rebounds and Caleb Love chipped in 13 points and five assists for the Tar Heels (2-0), who were able to avoid what would’ve registered as a shocking loss to the visiting Bears (1-1), who arrived as considerable underdogs.
“I feel like (Friday) we grew a lot as a team,” Bacot said. “We made a lot of mistakes on the defensive end, and that’s something we can grow on in practice and just learn from. It was just good 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 these types of situations.”
Dan Friday’s 21 points and five assists, Nana Owusu-Anane’s 20 points and eight rebounds, and Paxson Wojcik’s 14 points fueled Brown, picked during the preseason to finish a modest fifth in the eight-team Ivy League.
The Bears never became roadkill on this night. They led by seven points in the first half, by six on four different occasions in the second half, and were sinking better than 58 percent of their shots from the field until the game’s final eight minutes.
“They were taking us and it was layups, it was straight-line drives,” first-year North Carolina coach Hubert Davis said. “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.
“This is the type of game that really helps us moving forward become better. I’m not concerned at all about our ability to score. Where we need to improve is on the defensive end, and so I’m glad that we went through this. This is a great teaching point on what we need to improve on, and things that we need to change and adjust.”
Three nights after the Tar Heels never trailed and led by as many as 26 points while rolling past Loyola (Md.) to ring in the coaching debut of Hubert Davis and a new era for the program, this assignment against Brown became far from a simple endeavor.
The oddsmakers installed Brown as a 24-point underdog, but the Bears led 50-47 by halftime, after Aaron Cooley swished an open 3-pointer off a feed from Kino Lilly Jr. during the final seconds of the first half. That quieted the home crowd, which had risen to its feet in appreciation of RJ Davis’s back-to-back 3s.
Down the stretch, Davis drilled a 3-pointer that vaulted North Carolina ahead to stay at 78-77. He went 9-for-17 from the field, including 6-for-9 from 3-point range.
“Just taking the open shots, taking good shots, and trusting my work,” Davis said. “Move the ball and find the open guy. They had two guys on ‘Mando,’ so that was a big help. But also, I fed off the crowd’s energy and my teammates’ energy. My teammates, they were finding me and I was able to knock down the shots.”
Adam Smith is a sports reporter for the Burlington Times-News and USA TODAY Network. You can reach him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or @adam_smithTN on Twitter.
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This article originally appeared on Times-News: UNC basketball avoids Brown’s upset bid behind RJ Davis’s career night