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'The head of the snake': RJ Davis leads UNC to win over Florida State in revamped role

UNC senior guard RJ Davis (4) dribbles the ball during the men's basketball game against Florida State at the Dean E. Smith Center on Sunday, Dec. 2, 2023. The Tar Heels won 78-70.

Every morning, RJ Davis wakes up at 6 a.m., travels to the Dean E. Smith Center and starts shooting alone on the court before heading to class.

That's been his routine since this summer. Davis hasn't deviated once, which he said has led to his consistency.

This consistency was evident in No. 17 UNC's 78-70 win over Florida State on Saturday. The senior guard remained steady throughout the game, even when the rest of the team faltered in nearly all aspects of the game, scoring a team-high 27 points and dishing five assists.

Davis played a major role in cutting the 14-point lead that the Seminoles had early in the second half, consistently being in the right place at the right time to nail important shots that kept North Carolina in the game. 

FSU head coach Leonard Hamilton described Davis as "the head of the snake."

For Davis, being at the helm of the team is nothing new — the senior has been in a leadership position for multiple years as the go-to point guard for North Carolina. However, with the addition of first-year pass-first guard Elliot Cadeau, Davis said his role has shifted from being the primary ball-handler and distributor to more scoring-oriented.

“Now I’m a little bit more off the ball which is giving me the chance to be the scorer I naturally am,” he said.

But it's not the only thing that's changed between this season and last. Davis said his mentality has also shifted, which is helping him to perform better at a consistent rate.

“Having to score and having to just be the aggressor — I think that’s what's been my mindset and my mental. I worked on it a lot this year, this past offseason, this summer [just trying] to remain in the present." he said. "I think sometimes I get too caught up in looking too far ahead and overthink a lot and overanalyze what's going on, but just remaining in the present — I think that’s what’s been different about me this year.”

That's part of the reason why the White Plains, N.Y. native makes himself get up so early. He didn't always have such a demanding routine, but he said he implemented the early-morning sessions over the summer as a way to prep for the season. He makes a point to never skip a single morning. Even after the late-night Tennessee win on Wednesday and a looming early class on Thursday, Davis said he still got up and made his way to the Smith Center before the sun had even rose. 

"He works hard and at the end of the day when he shoots he’s one of those guys that you think ‘It’s going in,” junior forward Harrison Ingram said. 

Now, with Cadeau's pass-first play style, the guard is getting the chance to really show his off-ball abilities.

Davis averaged 16.1 points per game last season. This year, he's averaging 19.4, including 23 points or more the past four consecutive games.

"Everybody shares the basketball, and that’s something that’s a big part of our success on offense and getting RJ, and everybody else, shots,” head coach Hubert Davis said.

This team mentality, coupled with the senior guard's work ethic, has the potential to pay dividends for the team. But for now, RJ Davis said he just wants to think about the present.

“It’s been great, I’m loving it, I’m having fun out there," Davis said. "It’s my senior year so I’m enjoying everything — I told myself I’m always going to remain positive through the good and the bad.”


@dthsports |

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Gwen Peace

Gwen Peace is the 2023-24 assistant sports editor at The Daily Tar Heel. She has previously served as a senior writer. Gwen is a sophomore pursuing a double major in media and journalism and peace, war and defense.