As disappointing as the ending to the game was, North Carolina showed a lot of heart in their 87-83 loss to Kentucky. They overcame two separate 10-point deficits, and even led in the final minutes before ultimately coming up short. A big part of the reason that the Tar Heels were able to still be in the game late was the play of RJ Davis.
Davis led the way for the Tar Heels on Saturday night, scoring a game-high 27 points, while also grabbing seven rebounds and dishing out four assists. He came up especially huge in the second half.
Kentucky mostly held Davis in check over the first 20 minutes, as the senior went 2-9 from the field. However, when UNC needed to rally in the second, he kept coming up with some big buckets. In the second, he scored 18 points on 6-9 shooting, including two threes. Fourteen of those points came in Carolina’s second big rally. After Kentucky went up 62-52 with just over 11 minutes left, Davis scored 14 of UNC’s 31 points the rest of the way, helping the Tar Heels briefly grab the lead. Had UNC managed to pull out the win, Davis’ game might’ve gone down as an all-time great Tar Heel regular season performance.
Obviously, considering the final margin, he wasn’t perfect. Davis committed five of UNC’s 17 turnovers. He also missed a free throw that would’ve made the score 83-82 with just over a minute left. The miss led to a Kentucky rebound, and a possession that eventually ended with two free throws for the Wildcats. Just going off the final score, that one point wouldn’t have swung the game, but who knows what happens if that goes in and UNC can set up their defense. Even with all that, the Tar Heels wouldn’t have even been close enough to lose a heartbreaker were it not for Davis.
Besides him, Cormac Ryan had a big game. He finished with 20 points, having gone 8-12 from the floor and 4-7 from three. While Davis went off in the second half, it was Ryan in the first half that kept the game from getting away from UNC. He scored 12 in the opening 20 minutes, having gone 5-6 from the field with two threes. Ten of those points came after Kentucky led by as many as 11, helping the Heels get to within two going into halftime.
Not a ton to write home about other than those two, but Jae’lyn Withers and Seth Trimble both provided some solid minutes off the bench and finished as UNC’s two leaders in plus/minus at +13 and +10 respectively.
The way it happened, it’s hard not to view this game as a disappointing loss. However, RJ Davis continues to look like a guy UNC can truly count on to come up with some huge buckets in crunch time.