Davis, Bacot continue to show flash leadership

North Carolina guard RJ Davis shoots over Wagner forward Tyje Kelton during the first half of a first-round college basketball game in the NCAA Tournament, Thursday, March 21, 2024, in Charlotte, N.C. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)

CHARLOTTE — After a first half where Wagner managed to hang around with North Carolina, the Tar Heels eventually piled on the points in Thursday’s big win over the Seahawks in the first round of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament. 

The No. 1 seeded Heels (28-7) will now square off with No. 9 Michigan State (20-14) on Saturday (time TBD).

Star seniors RJ Davis and Armando Bacot were once again golden for UNC, who used a 50-point effort in the second half to cruise to a 90-62 victory over No. 16 Wagner (17-16). With 22 points on 8-for-13 shooting, Davis notched his third-straight game with over 20 points, while Bacot added 20 points and 15 rebounds in his fourth-consecutive double-double. 

“It’s a great feeling. I’ve enjoyed this whole year just being back with so many great teammates and a great coaching staff,” Bacot said after the game. “We’ve had a lot of fun, and we don’t plan on going home soon. That’s really it.”

Bacot has now recorded at least 15 rebounds in six straight NCAA Tournament games. 

“It’s win or go home. If you lose, you go home. It’s just one of those things that’s an even more sense of urgency to just go out there and play my best. All the years we’ve worked to get to this point, we’re just super locked in and trying to win.”

While UNC ended up going into halftime up by a dozen points, the Seahawks found themselves down only five points midway through the first half, seemingly stifling the Tar Heels’ momentum.

Davis told reporters that his team wasn’t doing enough at that point.

“I think in the first half we didn’t do a good job of getting out to a primary break. We had zero fast break points going into halftime,” he said. “The emphasis in the second half was to try to get out and run because that’s a big advantage for us, especially when we are playing in primary and getting easy layups.

With a game versus Tom Izzo’s Spartans on the horizon, Davis noted that the Heels would need to do a “better job” in their overall performance.

“I feel like after the game today, we slacked off in that area a little bit. On the defensive end, a couple of times in the first half there was miscommunication or no communication that led to open threes or getting the 50-50 loose balls. We’re usually on top of that.”

For schools chasing wins in March Madness, veteran leadership has often shown to be a defining trait of successful teams.

Davis and Bacot are in their last ride with the Heels, and they’re currently making the most of it. Between the former’s scoring ability and the latter’s rebounding efficiency, both present formidable matchups for whoever comes their way.