RJ Davis helps top seed North Carolina roll past Wagner

League: NCAA Basketball

Posted on: 22 Mar, 2024 at 07:30 AM

Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

CHARLOTTE -- RJ Davis scored 22 points and Armando Bacot had a double-double in the first half as North Carolina began the NCAA Tournament by whipping Wagner 90-62 in the West Region's first round Thursday afternoon.

Bacot finished with 20 points and 15 rebounds, Jae'Lyn Withers notched 16 points and 10 rebounds off the bench and Cormac Ryan posted 13 points for the top-seeded Tar Heels, who shot 55 percent from the field.

"I just told them in the locker room there's a desperation because I want Armando and everyone, I want them to see and experience the things that us as coaches have seen and experienced," Tar Heels coach Hubert Davis said. "That's where it comes from. Just really proud of Armando."

North Carolina (28-7) meets ninth-seeded Michigan State (20-14), a 69-51 winner against eighth-seeded Mississippi State on Thursday, in the second round Saturday.

Melvin Council Jr. and Julian Brown both had 18 points for No. 16 seed Wagner (17-16), which defeated Howard 71-68 in Tuesday night's First Four in Dayton, Ohio. Keyontae Lewis added 13 points.

Wagner, which had only seven players available, fell into foul trouble with two players with three infractions in the first half.

This game proved to be a good tonic for the Tar Heels, who were coming off Saturday night's stunning loss to rival North Carolina State in the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament championship game. But in front of an overwhelmingly supportive crowd in its home state, North Carolina rekindled many of the feel-good elements that defined most of the season.

North Carolina has advanced 33 of 35 times from the round of 64 in its NCAA Tournament history.

Wagner made seven of its first 11 second-half shots from the field, closing within 60-48 with about 10 minutes left before back-to-back 3-pointers from Davis and Harrison Ingram began a late-game surge that left no doubt about the result.

"I think in the first half we didn't do a good job of getting out to primary break," Davis said. "We had zero fastbreak points going into halftime. 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."

The Seahawks preferred a slower pace and used a zone defense for much of the game, trying to compensate for foul trouble. Wagner was charged with only eight turnovers.

But this had the feel of a road game for the Seahawks, who played three consecutive true road games to win the Northeast Conference Tournament and earn the NCAA bid.

"I was happy for them to be able to compete in this, and I was really proud the way they competed," Wagner coach Donald Copeland said. "Obviously what we've gone through all year isn't ideal, but we expected to play well. We expected to win the game. Obviously we didn't. But I'm glad the way we played."

Withers, a transfer from Louisville who was playing in his first NCAA Tournament game, was too active for the Seahawks to handle. He had a season-high point total, reaching double figures for just the fourth time this season.

"The game plan we had coming into it, we knew they were a little smaller than us and we had to attack the basket," Withers said.

North Carolina scored the game's first six points. Wagner went 2-for-7 from the field in the first four minutes.

--Bob Sutton, Field Level Media