Y’all still alive out there?
One person sure is, and that’s our player of the game: RJ Davis.
There are going to be many words spilled about this classic of an NCAA Tournament game. There will be howls about the officiating, the chills about how the Tar Heels couldn’t keep their composure down the stretch, questionable decisions, and the grit these Tar Heels had to recover in overtime to never trail and advance to the Sweet 16, 93-86 over Baylor.
In all of those words, let us not forget the man who lit the first in the first half and had to be the primary ball-handler for the majority of the second half and overtime. RJ Davis had one of those games that people will be talking about for years, and on a team full of scorers it was outstanding to see the sophomore step into the role and take the team on his back when he needed to.
The stat line doesn’t do RJ justice but you have to read it, 8-17 shooting overall, 5-10 from behind the arc and 9-10 from the free throw line that adds up to an amazing 30 points. He did that while dishing out six assists, and, in perhaps the most amazing state, grabbing five defensive rebounds. He was all over the court and, while he was responsible for three turnovers, didn't fold when Baylor tried to adjust their defense for him in the second.
Baylor had to do that because RJ was unconscious in the first half. The photo that leads this article if from one of the multiple threes that RJ just shot without any hesitation, as he and the Tar Heels were feeling it all the way to a 13 point halftime lead. As the situation devolved in the second half, RJ found himself as the primary ball-handler and scorer once Brady Manek was ejected and Caleb Love fouled out with 7:13 left in the half. Baylor was able to erase the 15 point lead thanks to this, but something seemed to click in between the second half and OT.
Speaking of OT, this is were we need to give a big shout out to Dontrez Styles. The freshman from the basketball powerhouse of Kinston stepped up in a major way, and not just when things were going bad. Styles played for 25 minutes overall, including a crucial stretch in the first half where his good play allowed Manek, Armando Bacot, and Leaky Black all were able to get a long stretch on the bench.
It turned out giving him those minutes would prove valuable once Manek was out of the game. Styles played good defense, shot 4-7 overall for nine points, and seemed to shadow RJ and Bacot during play to avoid either of them fouling out. Then, in OT, with the shot clock running out Styles hit the first three to let everyone know that Carolina was not going to just wilt. Carolina would never trail.
Also Brady Manek was close to being player of the game, and in a way he was because it was his flagrant two that was the lynchpin for the turnaround. You can debate the the call in the comments — I have my opinions — but what you can't argue is that moment caused the game to unravel for Carolina, and it fed Baylor. Even with being ejected, Manek scored 26 points on 8-13 shooting, including 4-8 from behind the line. He was feeding off the energy of the game, and his loss was felt. It’s good to see his college career isn’t going to end this way.
In a season where we thought they couldn’t give us any better memories, RJ Davis and the rest of the Tar Heels showed there’s still a little magic left.