In a game defined by explosive scoring and questionable defense, the North Carolina men’s basketball team put on a spectacle Friday night at the Dean E. Smith Center in a 94-87 win against Brown.
At times, the Bears' offense seemed unstoppable. The Ivy League team shot nearly 51 percent from the field with a mix of floaters, threes and inside post moves. Their 87 points were the most given up by the Tar Heels at home since Duke put up 98 in Chapel Hill back in February 2020.
A near-perfect shooting performance for junior forward Armando Bacot – who made 10 of his 11 field goal attempts – and a career-high 26 points from sophomore guard RJ Davis kept UNC right on the heels of Brown all night.
To that end, the game felt much more like a contentious midseason battle than an early non-conference matchup.
The crowd was uproarious as the two teams traded blows, and the Tar Heels played with a sense of urgency as they made crucial stops down the stretch and shot their way back into control of the game.
“It was just good just to be in a dogfight early in the season,” Bacot said. “That way, later on in the season, we'll kind of have some experience in those types of situations.”
Davis made six three-pointers, each seemingly more important than the last. Four of those threes came in the final seven minutes of the game, and they were the only field goals that UNC made during that stretch.
Davis, who played all of last season in relatively empty arenas, is getting his first real taste of what it’s like to play in front of a crowd. He said the energy of the fans and his teammates helped fuel his performance.
“I felt like going from an empty gym to playing in a packed arena, it was this big difference," Davis said. "It contributes a lot towards the end of the game.”
For each great shot that UNC made, there was some costly mistake on defense that prevented the Tar Heels from swinging the momentum in their favor.
This made the victory as frustrating as it was exciting for Hubert Davis, who got his first introduction to adversity on the way to his second career win.
“(Brown players) were getting layups. You know, this wasn't a situation where they were shooting lights out from three,” the first-year head coach said. “Our guys were gambling on the defensive end instead of staying solid.”
After going into the half down 50-47 and playing much of the second half from behind, the Tar Heels’ defense finally seemed to gel in the final minutes of the game. Senior guard Leaky Black said that locking down on defense will be the key to improving going forward.
“At the end of the day, that's what it is,” Black said. “Now, obviously, we can score the ball. We got a lot of weapons on the offensive end, but defense is what's going to carry us to where we need to be.”
With an upcoming slate of neutral-site games against ranked opponents, the Tar Heels won’t be able to consistently rely on the student section to push them over the edge in key moments. The team must learn from its defensive mistakes so they won’t become a limiting factor later.
“I'm glad that we went through this tonight,” Hubert Davis said. “This is a great teaching point on what we need to improve on and things that we need to change and adjust.”
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