UNC-Wake Forest ACC basketball game: Tar Heels still No. 1


North Carolina’s Cormac Ryan (3) reacts after three-point basket by R.J. Davis to give the Tar Heels a commanding 85-61 lead over Wake Forest in the final minute of play on Monday, January 22, 2024 at the Smith Center in Chapel Hill, N.C. Davis led all scores with 36 points in their 85-64 victory.

North Carolina’s Cormac Ryan (3) reacts after three-point basket by R.J. Davis to give the Tar Heels a commanding 85-61 lead over Wake Forest in the final minute of play on Monday, January 22, 2024 at the Smith Center in Chapel Hill, N.C. Davis led all scores with 36 points in their 85-64 victory.

rwillett@newsobserver.com

When was the last time UNC started a perfect 8-0 in ACC play? The 2015-16 Final Four season.

No. 3 North Carolina (16-3, 8-0 ACC) defeated Wake Forest (13-6, 5-3 ACC), 85-64, on Monday night in front of a raucous Smith Center crowd.

North Carolina’s Cormac Ryan (3) puts up a shot against Wake Forest’s Cameron Hildreth (2) during the first half on Monday, January 22, 2024 at the Smith Center in Chapel Hill, N.C.
North Carolina’s Cormac Ryan (3) puts up a shot against Wake Forest’s Cameron Hildreth (2) during the first half on Monday, January 22, 2024 at the Smith Center in Chapel Hill, N.C. Robert Willett rwillett@newsobserver.com

The Tar Heels trailed the Demon Deacons at halftime — it’s the first time they’ve trailed at half since December — but responded in a big way. Four Heels scored in double figures, including RJ Davis with 36 points, while limiting Wake’s scoring. Cameron Hildreth, who averaged 15 points coming into the game, was held to just 10.

UNC now leads the all-time series 165-69 and has won three of its last five.

Here are three takeaways from the victory.

Davis dominates for Carolina

Senior RJ Davis further strengthened his resume for ACC Player of the Year honors, scoring a career-high 36 points and propelling the Heels to a win over Wake Forest.

UNC went into the locker room trailing by one point despite Davis scoring 13 points in the first half. It was the first time Carolina trailed since Dec. 16 against Kentucky. Wake scored the first bucket of the half, as well.

Davis scoring two quick 3-pointers four minutes into the second half to retake the lead and match his first-half total 7:37 into the second.

North Carolina coach Hubert Davis embraces R.J. Davis (4) as he comes out the game in the final minute of play after scoring a career high 36 points in the Tar Heels’ 85-64 victory over Wake Forest on Monday, January 22, 2024 at the Smith Center in Chapel Hill, N.C.
North Carolina coach Hubert Davis embraces R.J. Davis (4) as he comes out the game in the final minute of play after scoring a career high 36 points in the Tar Heels’ 85-64 victory over Wake Forest on Monday, January 22, 2024 at the Smith Center in Chapel Hill, N.C. Robert Willett rwillett@newsobserver.com

The senior sparked UNC’s offense in a way the Deacons couldn’t contain, between his three shots from the perimeter and muscling his way into the lane for six floaters.

Davis was left off the preseason All-ACC teams, but it’s now unlikely he’ll be outside looking in.

UNC supporting cast comes up big in second

Even though Davis will get all the praise, Carolina’s win was truly a team one.

Freshman Elliot Cadeau, junior Harrison Ingram and graduate student Cormac Ryan provided an extra boost to the offense, especially down the stretch.

North Carolina’s Elliot Cadeau (2) drives to the basket between Wake Forest’s Andrew Carr (11) and Parker Friedrichsen (20) in the second half on Monday, January 22, 2024 at the Smith Center in Chapel Hill, N.C.
North Carolina’s Elliot Cadeau (2) drives to the basket between Wake Forest’s Andrew Carr (11) and Parker Friedrichsen (20) in the second half on Monday, January 22, 2024 at the Smith Center in Chapel Hill, N.C. Robert Willett rwillett@newsobserver.com

Cadeau finished with 14 points, on 7-12 shooting. His performance included back-to-back layups in the first half that led the team’s 10-0 run. Ryan added 11 points, seven of which came in the second half, and three rebounds.

Ingram recorded another double-double (10 points, 14 rebounds), contributing eight and eight after the break.

Wake Forest crumbles down the stretch

Sports teams talk about home court advantage all the time, and the Dean Dome certainly lives up to that. Wake Forest looked like it was up to challenge, too, but then it fell apart.

The Deacons led UNC, 14-12, with 10:05 in the first half before the Tar Heels took a 10-0 run. It looked like Carolina would break away — and the cheering fans seemed to think the same — but the visitors said “not so fast.”

Damari Mosanto, in just his second game of the season, hit consecutive 3s to tie the game. Then, Cameron Hildreth made a jumper to give Wake Forest a lead at halftime.

Unfortunately for the Deacs, and fortunately for the Heels, Wake Forest’s defense couldn’t keep up against the hot-hitting Davis. Wake scored just 30 second-half points to UNC’s 52. It allowed Carolina to shoot 61.3% from the field and 71.4% from deep in the second half.

This story was originally published January 22, 2024, 9:28 PM.

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