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'Dig deep': Leaky Black and RJ Davis power UNC men's basketball past Wake Forest

UNC junior guard RJ Davis (4) passes the ball in the Dean Smith Center on Jan. 4, 2023, against the Wake Forest Deamon Deacons. UNC won 88-79.

“Dig deeper” has become the catchphrase of the North Carolina men’s basketball team. 

In Wednesday night’s 88-79 victory over Wake Forest, two players did a lot of the digging.

With his 22 second-half points, junior guard RJ Davis surpassed his 1000th career point while leading both teams in scoring. That performance was complemented by a career-high 18-points from graduate forward Leaky Black, who had one of his best shooting performances of the season thus far.

UNC and Wake Forest swapped leads 20 times throughout the game, but the Tar Heels never let Wake Forest pull away — a testament to their ability to dig deep. Alongside RJ Davis and Black, senior forward Armando Bacot recorded 21 points and first-year Seth Trimble put up a career-high 11 points in the victory.

Black knocked down three 3-pointers in the first seven minutes of the game, surpassing his 6.7-point scoring average early on.

“Believe it or not, I’ve been doing that in practice since I’ve been here," Black said. "It just hasn’t been showing in the games. It’s always been there, it’s just a matter of going out and doing it, just playing free.” 

On just six shots, Black logged 14 points in the first half to lead UNC into the break.

“I’m super proud of Leaky,” RJ Davis said. “I told him he looked like Steph out there when he was shooting threes.”

Black said he harnessed his disappointment from the team’s loss to Pittsburgh last week, where the defensive specialist allowed his assignment  — senior guard Jamarius Burton —  to score 31 points. Black said he took the loss personally, which fueled his fiery performance on Wednesday night. 

“It’s just a matter of me stepping up and holding up my end of the deal and playing the way Leaky Black needs to play,” he said. “It’s a matter of capitalizing on my opportunities. If I see one go in, I’m gonna keep shooting it.”

As one of the oldest players on the team, Black noted he takes on a sort of “big brother” role and focuses on keeping everyone’s mental game in check by feeding the younger players confidence, as well as encouraging them to “dig deeper.”

“Every time we say ‘dig deeper’ in the huddle, it’s like a switch,” he said. “We’ll have these mental lapses, we’ll get to the timeout, it’s like ‘We gotta dig deep, dig deep.’”

Black did some digging of his own, and he had a career high performance to prove it. After tying his record with a pair of free throws early in the second half, he didn’t get a chance to set a new record until the last 14 seconds of the game, when he had a steal followed by a crowd-pleasing dunk.

Despite Black’s explosive first half, the Tar Heels still trailed by one at halftime. Luckily, his energy proved contagious.

From the outset of the second half, RJ Davis mimicked Black’s first-half start, immediately hammering three jumpers and a layup in the first four minutes.

“I feel like when I was out there, attacking the basket, taking open shots, that kind of opened the door for us, brought some energy and brought us together,” RJ Davis said. 

In the second half alone, RJ Davis scored 22 points, going 4-6 from behind the arc. Aside from his offensive rigor, he was dynamic on defense, snagging three steals and four defensive rebounds in the game.

Like Black, RJ Davis felt as though the team left things unfinished in its previous game against Pittsburgh.

“There were moments where we should’ve closed out and I felt like we relaxed,” RJ Davis said. “But today we dug deep."

With eight minutes to play, Bacot stole the ball at the top of the key and assisted RJ Davis for his third three of the half, giving UNC a 6-point lead — the largest of the half thus far. From there, the Tar Heels seized the momentum and took control of the closing minutes.

“You have to be connected to the discipline and the details, the things we talk about and we drill in practice every day, and with your effort and energy and enthusiasm, you have to dig deeper,” UNC head coach Hubert Davis said. “Our guys did that.”

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