What made RJ Davis laugh after UNC basketball’s NCAA Tournament win vs Michigan State

Rodd Baxley
Fayetteville Observer

CHARLOTTE — Sitting outside of the UNC basketball locker room at Spectrum Center, RJ Davis laughed when he was asked a question about the Tar Heels being viewed as the weakest No. 1 seed in the 2024 NCAA Tournament

“I mean, I think that’s funny. I feel like each game and each tournament we play in, I feel like everyone has something to say about us — which is fine. They have their own opinions, which they have a right to. But I think we do a good job of ignoring all of that,” Davis said after UNC’s 85-69 win against ninth-seeded Michigan State

“We don’t pay attention to if we’re being picked to win a game or what’s being said about us as a team. We know what we have in this locker room is good enough to continue doing what we’re doing. That doesn’t bother us at all.” 

Now, the Tar Heels (29-7) are in the Sweet 16, bound for Los Angeles and the West Regional. 

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Fellow top seeds Houston (31-4), Purdue (30-4) and UConn (32-3) will aim to join UNC as one of the 16 teams still fighting for a chance to get to the Final Four in Phoenix. 

“We don’t want anyone to pick us. We want everybody to stay on that side,” Armando Bacot, who had 18 points and seven rebounds against the Spartans (20-15), said with a smile.

“(Michigan State) came in early trying to bully us. This is a team where we’re not going for that. … After that first punch was thrown, at that point, we really just tried to go out there and punish them.” 

On Saturday night, UNC went from down 12 in the first half to up 17 in the closing minutes of the second half.

Following their struggle at the start, the Tar Heels received a simple message from head coach Hubert Davis during an early timeout.

“We came into the huddle and said, ‘Look, we can't talk about any basketball stuff until we join the fight,’” Hubert Davis said. 

“Once that started, the level of play in terms of the energy and effort, the attention to detail rose. Then that's when things started to change. We always talk about how you react and how you respond? And these guys, the whole team reacted and responded the right way after going down (12) in the first half.”

Despite Michigan State’s fight at the start, Bacot was never worried about UNC’s ability to throw a counter punch. 

“I think the huge thing with this team is we’ve got a belief in ourselves and there’s a swagger about us when — even if we’re down like that — we still don’t think the game is over,” Bacot said. 

“They go up 12 like that … most teams would panic. We didn’t panic at all.” 

UNC will face fourth-seeded Alabama (22-11) or 12th-seeded Grand Canyon (30-4) on Thursday at Arena. Even as a top seed, Harrison Ingram said, the Tar Heels will continue approaching each game with an underdog mentality. 

“We’re not worried about that,” Ingram, who had 17 points and seven rebounds against Michigan State, said about UNC being perceived as the weakest No. 1 seed. 

“Everybody’s trying to beat us and we’re trying to beat them. It’s lose or go home. … Every game we go in, we feel like we’re the underdogs. I feel like that fuels us, gives us energy and we’re ready to bust everybody.”

Staff writer Rodd Baxley can be reached or @RoddBaxley on X/Twitter.