The Daily Tar Heel

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Sunday March 26th

Three-point shooting renaissance leads Tar Heels to upset victory over No. 6 Virginia

UNC junior guard RJ Davis (4) shoots the ball in the men’s basketball game against UVA in the Dean E. Smith Center on Saturday, Feb. 25, 2023.
Buy Photos UNC junior guard RJ Davis (4) shoots the ball in the men’s basketball game against UVA in the Dean E. Smith Center on Saturday, Feb. 25, 2023.

After too many low-effort starts to games this season, Caleb Love said his team needed to come out and "punch teams in the mouth."

In Saturday's 71-63 victory over then-No. 6 Virginia, the North Carolina men's basketball team came out swinging. More often than not, they connected.

Pete Nance buried a catch-and-shoot 3-pointer to open scoring, and Love backed him up on the next possession with a trey of his own. Love's shot wasn't supposed to go in the way it did, banking awkwardly off the rim and into the basket.

"I ain't call it," the junior guard admitted after the game.

But that's just the way the shots were falling for the Tar Heels, who had suffered several games of abysmal shooting before coming alive in the first half against Virginia. The game was free-flowing, with zero whistles through most of the first half, and the Tar Heels were able to get into a rhythm with crisp passing and knockdown shooting.

UNC led 18-10 on 7-11 shooting by the time Virginia called the game's first timeout with 12:37 remaining in the half — an extremely impressive feat considering the Cavaliers boast the top-scoring defense in the ACC. Hubert Davis said quick decision-making was the key to overcoming Virginia's defense.

"One of the things that we talked about is having a 0.5 mentality," the UNC head coach said. "So when you catch the ball, in 0.5 seconds you got to shoot, you got to drive, (or) you got to pass."

That strategy resulted in a barrage of catch-and-shoot 3-pointers from Nance and junior wing Puff Johnson, who nailed consecutive shots from behind the arc shortly after checking into the game for the first time. Junior guard RJ Davis, who finished with 16 points, said he was able to effectively work around Virginia's hedges to find open looks.

With a solid defensive effort on the other end of the court, the complete first half sent the Tar Heels into the halftime break with a 42-26 lead. In any other game, Hubert Davis may have been irked that 16 of UNC's 26 first-half field goal attempts were taken from behind the arc. In this case, it was exactly the type of performance UNC needed to break down Virginia's pack-line defense.

"At the end of the day, we're gonna have to be able to knock down some perimeter jump shots," Hubert Davis said he told his team on Friday. "It is what it is."

It was a tough ask for a squad that had combined for 14 made threes on 75 attempts in its previous three games. In addition, two of the team's most dependable shooters were each dealing with ailments that threatened to disrupt their ability to make shots.

Johnson is dealing with a stye on his right eyelid and had to wear an eyepatch in Thursday's practice. RJ Davis, who's dealt with a finger injury on his shooting hand since the Syracuse game on Jan. 24, said he decided to finally shed the compression tape on his pointer finger that's hindered his shooting stroke for the past month.

Despite the obstacles, the pair combined for four 3-pointers on seven attempts against Virginia. Hubert Davis said it all started with a quality practice on Friday.

"(Coach) has been giving us confidence because we know we're capable of and we do it in practice every day," Johnson said.

With a quick turnaround for Monday's game against Florida State in Tallahassee, the team won't have any time to practice and stay in rhythm. Still, the Tar Heels can't afford to miss a beat as they try to prove that they belong in the NCAA Tournament.

If Saturday's win showed anything, it's that good things happen when UNC comes out of the gates strong.

"Not having to play the catch-up game is a way better feeling," RJ Davis said. "So you have to keep that in the back of my mind for the rest of the season."


@dthsports |

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