One year ago, Baylor was cutting down the nets as the 2021 NCAA Tournament champion. Heading into 2022 as the No. 1 seed in the East region, they appeared primed for another run.
But not so fast, says North Carolina, as the Bears’ quest for back-to-back championships was thwarted by the Tar Heels in Fort Worth Saturday. The No. 8 seeded Tar Heels (26-9) defeated the No. 1 seeded Bears (27-7) 93-86 in overtime to advance to the Sweet 16 in head coach Hubert Davis’ first season replacing the legendary Roy Williams.
North Carolina led at one point, 67-42, but make no mistake, this was a game of survival for the final 10 minutes and change. The game flipped immediately when North Carolina senior forward Brady Manek, who had 26 points on 8-of-13 from the field, was given a flagrant 2 foul and ejected.
Baylor erupted on a 30-9 run, moving within three with 28.7 seconds remaining. That’s when junior forward Armando Bacot had a chance to make it a two-possession game at the free throw line. But two bricks and a successful and-one from Baylor senior guard James Akinjo later, and the two teams were knotted up at 80. This game was headed to overtime with Baylor having all of the momentum.
In the five-minute overtime period, Baylor went ice cold from the field, scoring just six points. The full-press defense that head coach Scott Drew deployed in the final 10 minutes to claw all the way back didn’t prevent North Carolina from regaining its form in the extra period.
Sophomore guard RJ Davis was the lynchpin down the stretch, converting an and-one of his own to give the Tar Heels a 91-85 lead with 1:18 remaining that they would not relinquish.
Outside of Manek, it was RJ Davis who was able make the key plays for the Tar Heels. He finished with a career-high 30 points on 8-of-17 shooting with six assists and five rebounds.
RJ Davis said in the postgame interview that the team was mentally ready for Saturday’s challenge.
“I knew what kind of game it was gonna be. It was gonna go down to the wire,” RJ Davis said. “My teammates trusted me, my coach trusted me. It was all about making plays toward the end of the game. That’s what I did. I felt confident and I felt the rhythm all game.”
RJ Davis also credited the role players for helping pull off the major upset.
“The guys, the key players that came in when Caleb and Brady went out the game,” RJ Davis said. “They made big-time plays, and that’s what we needed. Everyone was a contributor to this game and everyone bought in. I think that’s why we became victorious today.”
Hubert Davis lauded his resilient squad after the game.
“I’m so proud of these guys because we’ve been in this situation before all season,” Hubert Davis said. “And they’ve come through.”
Hubert Davis added: “This is a group of toughness, resiliency and I’m so proud of them. One of the things that I desperately wanted for them — I wanted them to have their own testimonies, their own stories, their own memories of putting on that Carolina uniform and coming up big in big-time moments and big-time games.
“As a coach, that makes me so proud to be able to see the smiles on these faces to see these guys step up. It’s all because of them, and I’m so proud.”
With the win, North Carolina moves on to face the winner of No. 4 UCLA (26-7) vs. No. 5 Saint Mary’s (26-7) Friday at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia. Despite his ejection for the flagrant 2 foul, Manek will be available to play, per NCAA rules.
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