RALEIGH — North Carolina forward Ed Davis looked ginger all the way up to the tip-off of UNC’s 77-63 win against N.C. State.
The sophomore lollygagged his way through a shootaround in the minutes leading up to the game. He only took a half-hearted attempt on the dive that punctuates the end of UNC’s warm up routine, careful not to put any pressure on his injured left ankle.
And to say he cautiously jogged through the Tar Heels’ layup line would be an understatement.
Turns out, he was just showing a good poker face.
Once the whistle blew, Davis lost all the hesitation he showed during warm ups.
“He’d already lobbied for it a great deal this afternoon at the shootaround, and I told him I still wanted to watch him warm up and see how he felt,” coach Roy Williams said. “He said, ‘The difference is between night and day.’”
It turned out he even fooled his coach. While Williams said he would only allow Davis to play if his ankle was feeling at least 90 percent, Davis said he was only at about 80 percent before the game.
“It wasn’t 100 percent yet, but I just couldn’t sit on the bench today,” Davis said. “Coach didn’t really want me to play coming into the game, but I just kept telling him, ‘I’m fine, I’m fine.’”
Davis didn’t show any signs of being at 80 percent on the court.
The lift and power on his rebounding — he snared nine boards — hadn’t diminished. His soft touch around the basket (12 points) had barely rusted in the 10 days since he played his last game.
And his intensity to mix it up in the paint was more than enough to embolden confidence in a team that lacked it during a three-game losing streak.
Davis and the Tar Heels flexed their muscles in the paint, out-rebounding N.C. State 39-30 and only allowing eight points off offensive rebounds while getting 14 second-chance points of their own.
“When he gets back fully healthy, there’s no telling how good we can be,” senior forward Deon Thompson said.
Davis worked tirelessly on defense for almost all of his 28 minutes. He kept his feet moving to stay in front of forward Tracy Smith, the Wolfpack’s leading scorer and the player through whom N.C. State’s offense runs.
After rolling to 10 first-half points, Smith only registered one field goal in the first 16 minutes of the second half while UNC surged to a lead it wouldn’t relinquish.
Although Smith finished with 20 total points, the lion’s share of his points in the second half came after the game was decided and Davis took a breather.
“Tracy’s a load in there,” Marcus Ginyard said. “Ed, Deon and Travis (Wear) did a great job of making it tough on him down there.”
Davis was as coy after the game about his ankle as he was in warm ups. His energy from the win clouded any future prognosis he could make.
“My adrenaline’s still going right now,” Davis said. “It’ll probably be a little stiff tomorrow but be all right.”
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