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RJ Davis continues dominant senior season with career-high against Wake Forest

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UNC senior guard RJ Davis (4) celebrates a three-point shot during the men’s basketball game against Wake Forest in the Dean E. Smith Center on Monday, Jan. 22, 2024.

When first-year guard Elliot Cadeau told RJ Davis he needed one more basket for a new career high, Davis was already aware.

“I’m trying to get 40,” he replied.

Davis didn’t quite reach that mark in No. 3 North Carolina’s 85-64 routing of Wake Forest on Monday — scoring a career-high 36 points on 14-23 shooting — but his four 3-pointers did help him break Justin Jackson’s program record of 15 consecutive games with multiple threes. It was also Davis’ 100th career start, and the senior guard recorded zero turnovers.

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UNC senior guard RJ Davis (4) dribbles the ball during the men’s basketball game against Wake Forest in the Dean E. Smith Center on Monday, Jan. 22, 2024.

The White Plains, N.Y., native likened his rhythm against the Demon Deacons to playing backyard basketball.

“I think it’s like a zone that every hooper knows,” Davis said. “When you’re just in that zone, it’s hard to get out of. You can’t hear anything. You just see the ball in the basket.”

With three minutes left and the game all but over, Davis needed one more score to set a new milestone. Sizing up Demon Deacon guard Hunter Sallis at the top of the key, Davis crossed over twice and sunk a deeply-contested three.

Davis knows assistant coach and former UNC sharpshooter Jeff Lebo would rather have him hunt more catch-and-shoot looks. And although Davis himself estimates that his 3-point percentage off of catches this season is “probably like 100," he still prefers shooting off the dribble.

The triple went in. New career high achieved. Based on the night he was having, was anyone surprised at that point?

“It’s just normal RJ,” Cadeau said.

The only issues for Davis and the Tar Heels came in the first 20 minutes. By halftime, North Carolina trailed by one point and had missed all eight of its 3-pointers. Davis accounted for three of those misfires and admitted he was settling instead of attacking the basket.

But the Demon Deacons continued playing drop coverage on ball screens, allowing Davis to slowly find his rhythm through floaters. Four minutes into the second half, he had evidently warmed up, connecting on back-to-back threes to spur an 18-4 run.

From there, the Tar Heels never looked back.

“We need that from RJ every game,” head coach Hubert Davis said.

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UNC senior guard RJ Davis (4) dribbles the ball during the Monday, Jan. 21, 2024 men’s basketball game against Wake Forest in the Dean Smith Center. UNC beat Wake Forest 85-64.

If Monday night was any indication, the Tar Heels will continue playing with confidence, so long as their star veteran guard does. Graduate center Armando Bacot was held to a season-low five points and UNC recorded a season-low eight assists — but because of RJ Davis’ takeover, North Carolina still managed to earn its second largest ACC win of the season.

It was UNC’s seventh straight ACC win by double digits, the most since winning 10 straight ACC games by 10 or more points in the 1992-93 season.

“In the most humble way possible,” Cadeau said, “we know we’re the better team out there.”

Davis still leads the conference in scoring. When asked if winning ACC Player of the Year was one of his preseason ambitions, he said he doesn’t like to discuss his goals out loud.

But by the end of the night, the Tar Heel faithful were clearly voicing their support, repeatedly chanting “RJ Davis." It was the first time Hubert Davis remembered fans at the Dean E. Smith Center chanting a players’ name.

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UNC senior guard RJ Davis (4) embraces UNC men's basketball head coach Hubert Davis after a win during the Monday, Jan. 21, 2024 men’s basketball game against Wake Forest in the Dean Smith Center.

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“I think he's had a terrific career,” the head coach said. “But I feel like this year, he's finally getting noticed.”

@danielhwei

@dthsports | sports@dailytarheel.com


Daniel Wei

Daniel Wei is a 2023-24 assistant sports editor at The Daily Tar Heel. He has previously served as a senior writer. Daniel is a junior pursuing a double major in business administration and economics.