UNC guard RJ Davis makes Center Dean Smith history in win over Miami

Well, I guess that puts an end to any debate about ACC Player of the Year.

Not that there has been much discussion, or not until recently. North Carolina guard RJ Davis, the league's leading scorer on the league's No. 1 team, has been the proverbial leader most of this season, dating back to eight straight 20-point games in late November and December. And while other ACC players had their moments in the sun — Duke's Kyle Filipowski, Pittsburgh's Blake Henson, Clemson's P.J. Hall — none of them quite matched the Tar Heels' big guard's consistency.

None, even Wake Forest's Hunter Sallis. Sallis — a former five-star recruit, and the latest burgeoning transfer in Steve Forbes' backcourt rehab program — dropped a staggering 29 points against Duke on Saturday, in the ACC's best game of the season. Sallis made five 3-pointers (which tied a career-high) and had six assists as well, as the Devil Deacons got the emphatic win they desperately needed; They appear likely to make the NCAA Tournament for the first time under Forbes.

And as for Salis? The Venn diagram of Wick's bullish line and his current hotline are two perfectly overlapping circles. Over his past five games, Sallis is averaging 22.6 points, 4.8 rebounds and 2.6 assists, while making nearly 66.7 percent of his five 3-point attempts per game. It's…unrealistic production, which (rightfully) caused investors in the ACC to exclaim: “Huh, are we sure this guy can't be Player of the Year?”

And then Davis happened Monday night on national television — okay, no disrespect to Sallis, but that counterargument about who is the best player in the conference? It continued for 48 hours.

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Obviously, it was Davis who scored a career-high 42 points against Miami and almost single-handedly pulled the No. 9 Tar Heels to a 75-71 win.

“He put the team on his back,” UNC coach Hubert Davis said.

RJ Davis scored 42 points Monday night, the most ever scored by a UNC player in the Dean Smith Center. (Bob Doonan/USA Today)

It's the most points ever scored by a UNC player in Dean Smith's position, breaking Tyler Hansbrough's old mark of 40 points — and any time you invoke the name Psycho T in Chapel Hill, you're doing something right. He nearly doubled Davis' already impressive nightly scoring average, which is on pace to be the highest of any Tar Heels guard since the legendary Charlie Scott. That makes Davis just the seventh player in program history, and the first since Shammond Williams in 1998, to score 42 goals in a game.

And it's the perfect reminder, just in time, that North Carolina wouldn't be where it is today — a national title contender in control of its own destiny in the ACC, which it hasn't won since 2019 — without Davis. Monday night was just further confirmation of how the young guard plays with a much bigger game.

“He didn't score 42 points, but the kind of performance he had tonight, he's had it all season,” Hubert Davis said.

The fact that this came amid any amount of uncertainty now seems ridiculous. Davis scored just 12 points in 37 minutes Saturday at Virginia, and there were at least some questions about how he would respond to a 1-for-14 shooting performance. But he drained a 3 on UNC's first offensive possession Monday, setting the tone for everything that came after.

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He finished the first half with 21 points and eight shots. The rest of his teammates combined? Only 16 points and seven shots.

Davis followed up his 20-point third half of the season with…a 20-point fourth half of the season. He tied his previous career high of 36, which he set in January against Wake Forest, at 3 with 4:51 to play, and immediately followed that up with another 3 just 34 seconds later. (After the second time, he seemed to walk up to the UNC bench and give his variation of the Michael Jordan shrug. Points for showmanship.)

Davis then made three free throws over the final few minutes, as North Carolina State halted a furious Miami comeback. The Hurricanes went on an 11-0 run to make it a one-possession game for most of the final minute.

But ultimately, North Carolina won because they had the most prolific player on the field — in fact, one of the most prolific players in the country this season. The athlete Davis was named to the Midseason All-America team, an honor that seems like a foregone conclusion for the 6-foot senior. After sharing the backcourt with current Arizona guard Caleb Love for the past three seasons, Davis has emerged as the team's current star, and is on his way to having his jersey honored in the rafters of the Smith Center.

That seems appropriate now, doesn't it? The player who scores the most points in the building will have his name remembered forever.

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(Photo: Grant Halvorson/Getty Images)

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