Last night inside Spectrum Center, the Tar Heels not only snapped a two-game losing streak but also handed Oklahoma their first loss of the season, in a decisive 81-69 victory in the Jumpman Classic. Carolina led from start to finish in their most complete game of the season against a Power Conference opponent, led by R.J. Davis once again, and his game-high 23 points, including going 5-9 from behind the three-point line. He had help though, as three other starters reached the double-digit plateau, Armando Bacot (14), Cormac Ryan (13), and Harrison Ingram (11), all produced to help Carolina put together the best offensive performance Oklahoma has allowed all season long.
Carolina’s defense was as big a reason that they emerged victorious in this battle of ranked teams. The Sooners scored just 28 first-half points and shot 32% from the field. It didn’t get much better in the second half, outside of a stretch where they made four straight shots, they struggled all night from the field, shooting 40% for the game, and 23% from behind the arc. Despite never going to the full-court press, Carolina forced 18 turnovers, which led to 24 points off of turnovers, and fueled many of their 23 transition points. The 69 points are the fewest that Oklahoma has scored this season, and the 40% shooting percentage is the lowest of the season as well.
After leading by as many as 15 in the second half, Oklahoma closed the gap to 70-65 in the final minutes of the game, but as he has done not only this year, but his entire Carolina career, R.J. Davis hit a big-time perimeter shot, to quiet the threat, and effectively put the game away. After not being selected to any preseason All-ACC teams, Davis is arguably playing as well as any guard in the country, and if the season were to end today, he’d be the ACC Player of the Year, an All-American, and if wasn’t for Zach Edey, he’s be the National Player of the Year.
This game concludes a historic stretch, that saw Carolina play five ranked opponents in a six-game stretch, for the first time in program history. The Tar Heels went 3-2 in those games, with wins over Arkansas, Tennessee, and now Oklahoma. There is still a long way to go, but so far in the non-conference season, the Tar Heels have earned marquee, Quad 1 wins, that will set them up for greater success once we get into full-blown conference play.
Eric Montross: This was Carolina’s first game since the passing of program legend, and well-known broadcaster Eric Montross. The Tar Heels wore special shooting shirts, with his “00” on the back, along with his name. There was a moment of silence before the game as well to honor his memory. Big Fella, that win was for you.
R.J. Davis: More on the play of R.J. Davis. He’s now led UNC in scoring in seven straight games, the first player to do that since Tyler Hansbrough did so in 2009. He’s also scored 184 points in those games, the most since, well Tyler Hansbrough during his National Player of the Year season. He increased his scoring average to 21.7 and is now shooting 38% from behind the arc. Not bad for a guy that wasn’t listed on any preseason All-ACC teams.
Defense to Offense: Carolina needed to find easy baskets in the open court, against one of the best defenses in the country, and they did that all game long. In the first half, Oklahoma committed 10 turnovers, which led to 14 UNC points, and Carolina held a 13-0 advantage in fast break points. For the game, Carolina scored 24 points off of 18 Sooners turnovers and outscored Oklahoma 23-9 in the fast break.
Rebounding: Carolina won this game, despite getting outrebounded again, this time 41-34. There were times it seemed there was no rebounding presence on the floor, and you simply breathed a sigh of relief whenever a player in blue came away with the basketball. Carolina did allow 11 more offensive rebounds, but they only allowed 2 second-chance points. Three starters grabbed 7 rebounds or more, so Carolina is getting better at not solely relying on Bacot to carry them, but there’s no denying that is the biggest area of improvement for this team as enter the holiday break.
Rotation: Hubert Davis tinkered with some different lineups last night, including giving Zayden High 12 minutes off the bench. Seth Trimble led the bench in minutes (21) and in points (5). There was a lineup that featured Davis, Trimble, Ryan, High, and Bacot, which may not seem like a natural fight, but it gave Carolina more size all around, and you didn’t see a noticeable dropoff on either end of the floor. All in all, Carolina’s bench outscored Okalhoma’s 13-11, despite not having as defined a rotation as the Sooners.
Resume: There is a lot of basketball still to be played, but what’s different from this non-conference is that the previous under Hubert Davis, Carolina has built a nice resume that should hold up on Selection Sunday. The Tar Heels are currently 29th in the NET and have already picked up two Quad 1 wins. They’ll have even more opportunities to earn more Quad 1 wins, as their first three league games, will qualify as Quad 1 games at this time.
Up Next: Carolina doesn’t play again until December 29th, when they host Charleston Southern, in the final non-conference game of the season. That tip is scheduled for 8 PM on the ACC Network.