Tape doesn’t lie as UNC beats Georgia Tech to snap slump

UNC guard RJ Davis brings the ball up court during the Tar Heels’ win over Georgia Tech on Saturday in Chapel Hill. (Jacob Kupferman / AP Photo)

CHAPEL HILL — After a busy schedule that included four games — all losses — in 10 days, UNC had close to a week off before Saturday’s game against Georgia Tech. That gave the Tar Heels’ coaching staff time to devote their attention to tape — both the kind that shows video of past performances, and the kind that keeps the joints of battered players intact.

Both came into play as North Carolina beat the Yellow Jackets 75-59 in their best all-around performance of the season.

RJ Davis had a season-best 22 points on a season-best 8-of-13 shooting. He credited tape — the sticky stuff — for his outstanding shooting day.

“I want to give a shoutout to (UNC assistant) coach (Jeff) Lebo,” Davis said. “He told me to take the tape off my finger. So I think that was the main thing why I was clicking today.”

RJ Davis played the first nine games of the season, including this November game against James Madison, with his right index finger taped heavily due to a preseason injury. (AP Photo/Chris Seward)

Davis had shot below 40% in five of his last seven games and was shooting just 38% over that span. He suffered an injury to the pointer finger on his right hand that kept him out of UNC’s preseason exhibition game against Johnson C. Smith. The tape was a lingering preventative measure stemming from that issue. But, without him realizing it, the tape was affecting his grip on the ball during his shot.

“Just to have a true feel for the basketball,” he explained. “I feel like the tape was preventing me from having a true feel and not be able to shoot like I know I’m capable of shooting.”

Lebo, who shot 42.8% in making 211 career 3s with the Tar Heels in the late 1980s, was the one who pinpointed the tape as a potential source of Davis’ slump.

“We spoke about it,” Davis said, “and he said, ‘How about you try going out and shooting without it?’ So I tried that at Friday’s practice and came out today pretty confident. … I took it off and felt like I had a flick of the wrist.”

So credit goes to the tape for his regained shooting accuracy?

“It’s pretty evident,” he said.

Meanwhile, head coach Hubert Davis was devoting his attention to tape — the video kind — to try to find a way to regain the Tar Heels’ offensive execution from last season’s March run to the national championship game. The key was in how he used big man Armando Bacot in the transition game.

“It’s something we worked on the last three days in practice, just in terms of how we can be more efficient in transition,” he said. “Last year, we ran a lot of ball screens in transition and it worked really well for us. We were able to get downhill and attack the basket. So we had (Bacot) sprint down the floor and post up right in front of the basket, everyone else get to their regular spots. And in transition, we’re looking for layups and dunks. We’re looking to pitch ahead wide-open 3s by our best shooters.”

The result? Bacot had five of UNC’s seven layups and three of its four dunks, as Carolina had a 17-3 edge in fast break points, 36-22 in points in the paint, and Bacot scored 21 points

“We had time to practice,” Davis said. “It’s nice to have that time and be able to implement it in a game and have it look pretty good. … Near the end of the first half, I told my assistant coaches, ‘This is the first time it looks like Carolina Basketball.’ … It was the first time we, as a group, have really smiled in two weeks.”

All it took was a little time away from games to allow the coaching staff to get to work on studying tape.