After suffering a tough loss to Kentucky in Atlanta, the Tar Heels traveled to Charlotte to take down Oklahoma 81-69 in the Jumpman Invitational. This marked the third ranked win of the season, the second win over a top-ten team, and the second Quad 1 win. UNC’s schedule in hindsight was one of the crazier things that have ever been put together, but ultimately things played out in one of the better ways that it possibly could’ve. Yes, going 5-0 against ranked opponents would’ve been preferred, but when looking around the college basketball landscape right now, 3-2 is honestly really impressive.
Let’s not waste anymore time and dive into the three things that we learned from UNC’s big win in Charlotte.
Rebounding is still a problem
Before we get into the positive aspects of the win over the Sooners, we have to discuss the most frustrating topic from their three losses: rebounding. Despite earning a win last night, the Heels lost the rebounding battle 34-41, and also only pulled down seven offensive rebounds. Armando Bacot led the team with eight boards, and Cormac Ryan and Harrison Ingram were right behind him with seven apiece. Outside of those three players, nobody pulled down more than four rebounds.
It’s starting to feel like there’s no easy fix for UNC when it comes to cleaning the glass that doesn’t involve Bacot rebounding out of his mind like we’ve seen him do in the past. Granted, it goes without saying that he’s not playing his best basketball at the moment, but also he can’t be the only one doing it either. Tonight we didn’t see much of Jalen Washington or Zayden High, but when they are in the game they are going to have to find a way to make an impact by creating second-chance opportunities. Jae’Lyn Withers is another guy that really should be doing more on the glass, but he really hasn’t been super effective in that department since his freshman season. I don’t know what Hubert Davis’ move is to fix this problem, but they probably want to fix it before ACC play starts, because those second-chance opportunities can, and will, decide games on any given night.
UNC’s defense created opportunities that their rebounding didn’t
While losing the rebounding battle has cost the Tar Heels three games, they were able make up for their issue last night by making Oklahoma turn the ball over. The Sooners coughed up the ball 18 times, 10 of which were steals. Harrison Ingram led UNC with four steals, and RJ Davis threw in three of his own. These turnovers led to the Heels scoring 23 fastbreak points, which is 14 more than Oklahoma was able to pull off.
While I would argue that OU was weirdly bad about hanging onto the ball, it’s undeniable that the Heels’ ball pressure caused a lot of issues for them as well. They were flying around the court all night long making the Sooners as uncomfortable as possible, and made them earn every clean possession that they were able to get. UNC played with an intensity on defense that was welcome after some recent struggles, though it’s worth pointing out that UConn and Kentucky were extremely tough defensive assignments for a number of reasons. Hopefully we will see more pockets getting picked as the season moves on, and I also hope that maybe they can work on the whole allowing the other team to shoot 50% from the field in the second half thing. Baby steps though, right?
This is RJ Davis’ team now
This feels inevitable at this point, right? RJ Davis has been an absolute terror for what will soon be a month, averaging 20+ points over that span. While he finished the game against the Sooners shooting 38.9% from the field, he also went 55.6% from three, had four rebounds, five assists, and three steals. Even crazier is the fact that 13 of his points came in the second half, as well as four of his five assists. While some players start to cool off after the first half, it just felt like Davis became more and more dangerous as the game went on. He truly is having a special season, and it’s clear that he is now the star of the show.
Obviously saying “this is RJ Davis’ team now” is easy to say when it comes to scoring, but overall it just feels like he is becoming more and more of a leader on the floor. He is playing with a lot of energy, he is very vocal, and his toughness can be felt throughout this roster. We spent a lot of time waiting for Bacot to be the vocal leader of this team, but perhaps this entire time we should’ve been looking at Davis instead. I believe more and more that this team could do a lot of damage in the NCAA Tournament, and RJ Davis is perhaps the biggest reason why I think that is possible.