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RJ Davis sets a Smith Center record with 42 points. And UNC needed every one of them

Standing roughly on Bryson City on the outline of the state on the Smith Center floor — a figurative 280 miles from Chapel Hill and a literal 28 feet from the basket — R.J. Davis put to the test the theory that he could score from just about anywhere Monday night.

And he did. From the left wing. From the right wing (mostly). From the logo. From more places and more times than anyone else had before him.

With a Smith Center-record 42 points, Davis not only accounted for more than half of North Carolina’s offense in a nail-biting 75-71 win over Miami, he put on the kind of unprecedented individual display that carved out new space in the very thick UNC record book.

“Once I get my groove like that, it feels like I can’t miss,” Davis said. “I feel like I should have had 50. I missed free throws and whatnot. I just felt good. The shots felt good. The ball felt good. Everything felt great tonight.”

He was often open. But when Miami was in his face, he stepped back for more space. All the way to the logo, if that’s what it took.

“When he hit 30, with that little snatch-back on Matthew (Cleveland), I was like ‘Oh my God,’” Harrison Ingram said. “I was just smiling like, ‘You nice.’”

Whatever uncertainty there may have been about Davis’ candidacy for ACC player of the year, even as the front-runner, Monday removed all doubt.

Kyle Filipowski, Hunter Sallis, P.J. Hall? Fine players all. But there’s no more explosive or dangerous player in the ACC than Davis, and this was his finest performance yet, one that will unquestionably win over any voters left on the fence.

And did the Tar Heels ever need all of it.

Miami, playing without Nijel Pack and Wooga Poplar, proved surprisingly difficult to dismiss, even with Davis on this heater, in part because Bensely Joseph and Norchad Omier both hit the 20-point mark — Hurricanes big man Omier with a career-high four 3-pointers — and in part because Davis got almost no help.

Every other Tar Heel finished in single digits: Armando Bacot with five points on only four shot attempts; Cormac Ryan with seven and Harrison Ingram with eight, both on 3-for-13 shooting; a paltry five bench points.

The Tar Heels couldn’t even put away the win at the free-throw line in the final minute. Davis went 1-for-2, Bacot missed a pair and Seth Trimble went 1-for-2 before Ja’Lyn Withers finally gave North Carolina a two-possession lead at the finish.

“It was a valiant effort,” Miami coach Jim Larranaga said. “But R.J. Davis had the answer every time we made a run. He’s a fantastic player.”

Along with his 42 points, Davis picked up the 500th rebound of his career Monday, making him the first player in UNC history with 1,800 points, 200 3-pointers, 500 rebounds and 300 assists and tied him with Brad Daughtery for 10th all-time in scoring. Along with breaking Tyler Hansbrough’s building record, he put up a scoring gap over his teammates not seen since the days of Lennie Rosenbluth or George Glamack.

And after a 1-for-14 effort in Saturday’s win at Virginia, Davis still had something to prove Monday. He certainly put on a show. By halftime, when he was announced but not honored with North Carolina’s other scholar-athlete award winners, he already had 21.

He ended the first half with a basket and started the second with another. Midway through the second, when North Carolina needed a bucket, the Tar Heels ran a play to get Davis a look on the right wing. He missed. Next possession, different play, same look. This time, Davis was fouled. In one 192-second stretch of the second half, he hit four 3-pointers on five possessions.

“I know he hadn’t scored 42 points, but the type of performance he had tonight he’s been having all season,” North Carolina coach Hubert Davis said. “He put the team on his back. It wasn’t just his points. I thought he was great defensively. He took care of the basketball. Distributed. Rebounded. Boxed out. We needed every bit of his 42 tonight. He was fantastic.”

At some point, Davis figured out — or realized it had been decided for him — that on this night, the Tar Heels’ only path to victory was R.J. Davis shooting them to a win. On a night when it came down to the final play, every one of his shots mattered.

Sometimes, the best player wins.

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