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Hubert Davis' fired-up coaching helps UNC men's basketball beat N.C. State in chippy contest

Head coach Hubert Davis shouts in the Dean E. Smith Center on Saturday, March 2, 2024, during the men’s basketball game against N.C. State. UNC won 79-70.

Hubert Davis just about tore off his gray and Carolina Blue checkered sport coat. 

Right in front of the UNC men's basketball head coach — who was pacing frantically back and forth on the sideline just a few minutes into the second half — graduate guard Cormac Ryan attempted to curl off a screen and collided with N.C. State's DJ Horne, resulting in a double foul. Davis gestured wildly — almost to the point of punching through his blazer — and ripped off his glasses. Before the Tar Heels inbounded the ball, he clapped his hands and stomped the floor, imploring his team to do better.

Fired up is an understatement. 

“He got super chippy, and it was a lot of fun,” graduate center Armando Bacot said. “When you see coach on the sidelines being animated, it’s one of those things where it really turns us up.”

Davis’ passion on the sidelines and in the locker room was the catalyst in North Carolina’s 79-70 comeback home victory over N.C. State on Saturday. The Tar Heels trailed 45-37 at the break —  the most points a UNC opponent has scored in a first half all season.But thanks to a fiery halftime speech from Davis, UNC was able to overcome the largest halftime deficit the Tar Heels have prevailed over since 2021 against Florida State.

In the second half, the Wolfpack shot only 22 percent from the field — the lowest the Tar Heels have held an opponent to in a half all season.

But before that could happen, Davis had to address a few things in the locker room at half. The head coach, naturally, was fired up. First-year guard Elliot Cadeau said Davis pointed to him and all his teammates, saying they weren’t bringing it defensively. 

“He felt like they were just playing harder than us,” Cadeau said. “And he said ‘That’s unacceptable, no team should ever play harder than us.’”

UNC men’s basketball head coach Hubert Davis during the men’s basketball game versus N.C. State in the Dean E. Smith Center on Saturday, March 2, 2024. UNC won 79-70.

The Tar Heels took the message to heart and ramped up their defensive intensity. The Wolfpack scored the first bucket of the second half, but the Tar Heels then held them without a made field goal for over 10 minutes.

Davis had stoked the fire — the Tar Heels started playing harder and the game got chippier.

Not even two minutes after the first dust up, there was another. This time, Cadeau got tangled up with N.C. State’s Casey Morsell, fighting for a loose ball. It was a hard foul, and the teams got into it, exchanging some words and a few shoves around the 3-point line. 

Yet again, Davis removed his glasses and placed them on the scorers table. Then he clapped and stomped some more. 

Davis doesn’t mind chippy. According to him, all that action on Saturday was nothing compared to his playing days. 

“I played in the 90s where a fight could break out, and you could still play,” he said. Then he laughed.

The chippiness (nothingness to Davis), the skirmishes, frays or fracases, or whatever you want to call them — that was the turning point.

“I felt like when things got a little chippy," Davis said, "it ignited us a little bit."

It certainly ignited the Tar Heels’ coach. But that’s just Hubert Davis. Bacot said it wasn’t even the most animated he's seen Davis this season. 

Game-after-game, Davis sets the tone. Watching him on the sidelines, you wouldn’t be surprised to see him try to check in. And this particular game epitomized who he is as a coach, Bacot said.

"This was one of the famous ‘Him getting fired up' [games].”

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