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Heel Tough Blog: Wake Forest Recap

Updated: Jan 23

AP Photo

For the eighth time in ACC play, the Tar Heels emerged victorious, after routing Wake Forest 85-64 inside the Smith Center tonight, as Carolina has won 8 straight games, to improve to 16-3. It was a career night for R.J. Davis, who set a career high, scoring 36 points, on 14-23 shooting, including going 4-8 from behind the arc. The 36 are the most by a Tar Heel since Brice Johnson scored 39 at Florida State in 2016, and the most by a UNC player in Chapel Hill, since Tyler Hansborugh scored 39 against Clemson in 2008. Davis was one of four Tar Heels to score in double figures, as Cadeau (14), Cormac Ryan (11), and Harrison Ingram (10) all reached double digits, to overwhelm a porous Wake Forest defense. Carolina shot 52% from the field, and they scored 48 points in the paint, putting together another impressive performance at home. 

 It wasn’t always easy though, as Wake Forest led at the half, 34-33, after closing the first half on a 20-11 run. In the second half, Carolina’s defense took over, holding the Demon Deacons without a made basket for over five minutes, to take control of the game. Wake entered the game shooting 39% from behind the arc as a team, and tonight they were held to 15% shooting, going just 3-20 from deep. Hunter Sallis scored 18 points but only got help from Andrew Carr and Cameron Hildreth, which wasn’t going to be enough to win on the road. 

Wake Forest has been a bubble team the last two seasons and needed a win over a team like UNC to solidify themselves as an NCAA Tournament team, and when they were leading at the half, they felt more than up to the challenge. But the fact that Carolina trailed by only a point, despite missing three free throws in the first half, combined with not making a single perimeter shot, wasn’t a good sign. Once Carolina cleaned up the free throw shooting, and R.J. got cooking from the outside, Wake offered little resistance, over the final twenty minutes, as Carolina won another game by double digits. 

This is the 11th 8-0 ACC start in program history, and this one may be the most unlikely, considering the three straight road games, combined with the quality of opponents Carolina had to play out of the gate. But as they’ve done since the Kentucky loss, this team rose to the challenge, and exceeded it with flying colors, as they continue to separate themselves from the rest of the ACC and emerge as a legitimate national title contender. Here’s what to take away from another dominant win over Wake Forest: 

  1. R.J. Davis: A career night for Davis, only helps his case to not only be the ACC Player of the Year but vaults him into the conversation for National Player of the Year. He became the first Tar Heel to record multiple 30-point games in the same season since Garrison Brooks did so back in 2019-20. He also set a new school record, making multiple three-pointers in 16 straight games, surpassing a record set by Justin Jackson back in the 2016-17 national title season. 

  2. Rebounding: Carolina entered the game with a decisive advantage on the glass, and that carried over onto the court tonight, as UNC outrebounded the Demon Deacons, 43-30, despite grabbing just 6 offensive rebounds. Harrison Inram continues his rebounding surge, grabbing 14 rebounds, to earn his double-double as a Tar Heel. Armando Bacot added 7, and so did Jae’Lyn WIthers off the bench, to help UNC control the pace of the game in the second half. 

  3. Points in the Paint: Wake Forest allowed the second most points in the paint of any ACC team, and tonight they had no answer when Carolina attacked the basket. It wasn’t just R.J. Davis attacking downhill, so did Elliot Cadeau, who scored 14 points, all of them in the painted area. UNC outscored Wake 48-30 in the paint tonight, to fuel their big second half. 

  4. Perimeter Defense: Teams have shot 24% from deep against Carolina in ACC play, and tonight Wake was 3-20 from deep, after entering the game shooting 39% as a team. Everyone has been waiting for the perimeter defense to fall off, but after tonight it’s fair to say that’s not going to happen, and this is the best perimeter defense in the league. Wake Forest starters combined to shoot 0-10 from deep. 

  5. Fast Break Points; In a game that figured to be a shootout, offense was hard to come by in the first half, hence the 34-33 halftime score. Carolina scored 52 second-half points, large because they got out into the open floor, scoring 15 fast break points. On the flip side, Wake managed to score just 1 point in transition, on their way to a season-low 64 points.   

Up Next: The Tar Heels hit the road again, this time traveling to Tallahassee to take on an improving Florida State team. That game will come your way Saturday at 2 PM on ESPN.

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