Tribute to the Iron Five: RJ Davis
UNC’s 2021-22 men’s basketball team will be remembered forever thanks to the transformation it underwent in the final third of the season. Hubert Davis leaned into his starting five, forging the ‘Iron Five’ into a cohesive unit that became extremely effective on offense and collectively tough on defense. This almost beehive mindset took its final form in the NCAA Tournament, when the Tar Heels spilled over into the East Region, and culminated with the final nail in Coach K’s coffin. in the national semi-final, before missing just one possession in a national championship. .
Akil discussed Carolina’s Player of the Tournament Armando Bacot yesterday, but the Iron Five all deserve praise and a better understanding of their heroism during March Madness. They all took turns playing and battling throughout UNC’s three-week tournament. Over the next few days, TarHeelBlog will review the contributions that each of the Iron Five made during this incredible tournament.
The first is RJ Davis. The second point guard really took over the reins of the team when Carolina came on in February, and his point guard and shooting abilities took the team to another level. Of the Iron Five, he played the most minutes (227 total minutes, an incredible 37.8 mpg average), including all 45 minutes in the overtime game against Baylor. He led the team in assists with 30, 7 better than the next Tar Heel (Leaky Black with 23). Davis is averaging 14.7 ppg, 6.5 rpg and 5 apg versus 2.8 TO per game. Great numbers for a championship caliber point guard, especially rebounds and assists.
RJ was able to flex his game in the first round. With UNC giving Marquette a deserved (and historic) beating, leading 53-25 at halftime, RJ didn’t have to score much. Instead, he handed out 12 assists against just one turnover. He let Brady Manek and Caleb Love feast on the Golden Eagles, who found themselves tipping the wrong side of “competitive” or “edgy,” and slipping into a downright dirty game. Davis didn’t have to force himself to score. It would come two days later.
The “RJ Davis Game” was Baylor’s second-round win. After Brady Manek’s erroneous ejection and Caleb Love’s foul, RJ Davis found himself as the only competent ball-handling provider for long stretches of the game. He had his best scoring night of the tournament, racking up 30 points, with most coming from behind the arc (5-10 3PTs) or down the line (9-10 FTs). RJ’s and-1 in overtime sealed the game and was about as tough and acrobatic as you’re likely to see. The fact that RJ had to lead Carolina through its toughest test of the season with Justin McKoy and Dontrez Styles replacing Love and Bacot makes the degree of difficulty even more impressive.
RJ’s 14 points in the first half against Duke kept Carolina in the fight until Caleb Love turned into “2nd Half Caleb Love” and sealed the game. The symbiosis between Davis and Bacot was extraordinary, and they were able to get favorable switches on high screens that allowed Davis to cook against bigs that didn’t want to cover back, or sat too deep and gave open jumpers RJ just inside the 3-point double. It’s an easily repeatable pattern, and UNC fans can expect to see RJ execute this kind of two-man game next season with whoever is in 5th place (hopefully Bacot!).
RJ Davis was about as effective as the rest of his team in the first half.
Davis shot 5-7 FG and 2-3 3-PT in the first half, while the rest of North Carolina shot 7-27 FG and 1-10 3-PT.
Davis was 3-4 on the disputed FG. His teammates were a combined 2-21. pic.twitter.com/wRKpeT6rEE
— ESPN Stats and Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) April 3, 2022
The 2022 NCAA Tournament was a good indicator of who RJ Davis is and where he could go next season. He has all the tools to succeed. His game and shooting are top-notch, and with another summer of work at Dean Dome with the team and alumni, we could see an even more seasoned and deadly point guard.