After a lackluster opening win over UNC-Wilmington, North Carolina coach Hubert Davis blamed his team’s performance on nerves and rust. After UNC repeated the sluggish performance against Charleston, he questioned his team’s toughness, calling them “soft” in the locker room.
“They all were soft,” he said. “I challenged all of them. One of the things I’ve told them is that this is a different generation. My generation, somebody calls you soft and it’s real. It’s real. But they were, we were soft in the first half. We were soft at parts against UNC Wilmington, on both ends of the floor, and there’s a physicality that has to be brought all the time.”
In Tuesday’s 72-66 win over Gardner-Webb, the Tar Heels didn’t seem to take the challenge the way it was intended, and Davis appears to have had enough.
“I didn’t see any red flags,” he said of the team’s four-point lead at the half , then nearly blowing a 16-point lead down the stretch. “I saw a lot of yellow flags. I saw yellow flags in terms of our toughness. I saw yellow flags in terms of our sustained effort. I saw yellow flags in terms of our commitment to defense. I saw yellow flags in terms of our commitment to the scouting report and doing the things you’ve been asked to do. I saw yellow flags in terms of getting to the offensive glass. I saw yellow flags in terms of sharing the basketball, in terms of good to great.”
Preseason player of the year Armando Bacot continued his early season slump. After setting records for double-doubles last season, he has yet to record double figures in rebounding this year and had 10 points and nine rebounds against a Gardner-Webb frontline with no player over 6-foot-9.
“I really felt like at the beginning of the year, there would be hunger and thirst,” Davis said. “I was excited about it. The people who played major minutes this year and decided to come back, I thought there would be a hunger and thirst.”
Guard RJ Davis had a double double, with 14 points and 10 rebounds and earned praise from Davis, who used the performance as a way to highlight other players’ shortcomings.
“RJ is the heart of this team,” he said. “Plain and simple. The end. When he goes well, we go well. He’s the perfect example of a Carolina basketball player.”
After looking at the box score for several seconds, Davis added, “He outrebounded everybody. It wasn’t about technique. It was because he wanted to get the ball. If we had 18 guys that want to do that, we might have something here.”
Pete Nance was another bright spot. The grad transfer had his best day as a Tar Heel, hitting 3-of-5 on three-pointers and finishing with 18 points.
“But he had 16 at the half,” Davis pointed out. “And he only had 18 for the game. One of things—a long long time ago when I played, if I had 16 in the first, my teammates were gonna screen and give me the ball and continue to do that. I don’t know how many shots he took in the second half … Two? I know if I had 16 in the first half and two (shots) in the second, there’d be some discussions with my teammates.”
Davis kept the team in the locker room for an extended time at halftime, coming out with less than three minutes before the second half began. Part of the coach’s message was on the team’s lack of attention to the scouting report.
“It’s difficult to do the exact opposite of what the coaches have asked you to do,” he recalled telling them. “That seems to be harder than doing what you’ve been asked to do. To be told to do something and say, ‘I’m not gonna do that. Actually, I’m gonna do the opposite thing.’ That was very confusing to me.”
Davis also showed the team an Instagram post of the JV team celebrating in the locker room after a win.
“I coached the JV team for seven years,” he told the team. “That was the birth of my passion to be a head coach. Being around the JV team, there was no noise. Nobody on the JV team is thinking about entering the draft. No one is thinking about their NIL deals. I never had one meeting, one call, one text, one tweet from parents talking about roles, shots, minutes. There wasn’t anything. The only thing on their mind was they couldn’t believe they were a part of this program. It was pure. I asked the team, what’s the difference between you and them? You’ve been gifted more than them. That’s it.”
Davis said he would give the team Wednesday off because NCAA rules required it, but “I don’t have to work up energy. I’m there. There’s no lack of energy, will or toughness with me. I’m there. I can go tonight.”
By the time the team meets again, Davis will likely have made the one coaching adjustment that seems to work best.
“Like I said, it’s been awhile since I played,” he said, “but one of the things that helps with hunger and thirst is playing time. Or a lack of playing time. That gets your attention. It’s one of the things that over the next three or four days will be addressed, reevaluated, tweaked, pivoted, changed and altered.”