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Davis, Bacot lead No. 8 North Carolina to victory over 16th-ranked Clemson

Armando Bacot North Carolina Armando Bacot - The Canadian Press

CLEMSON, S.C. (AP) — North Carolina coach Hubert Davis spent more time listening than talking down the stretch of his team’s game at Clemson. That’s exactly the way he likes it.

RJ Davis had 14 points while Armando Bacot had 14 points and 16 rebounds to lead the eighth-ranked Tar Heels to a 65-55 victory over No. 16 Clemson on Saturday.

The Tar Heels (11-3) opened 3-0 in Atlantic Coast Conference play for the first time since the 2015-16 season. And they accomplished it, their coach believes, by staying connected through the most crucial moments.

In late time outs, Davis said it was his players discussing defense and strategy instead of the coach dictating what to do. “It’s what I wanted,” the third-year coach said.

Bacot, in his fifth season, said the Tar Heels knew they needed to stay sharp to defeat a team in Clemson (11-3, 1-2) that entered the week as the ACC’s best in the NET rankings.

“We just wanted to stay engaged in the huddle,” he said. “In a road environment like this, we’ve got to be engaged and not having lapses. You let a team like (Clemson) go on a run, it’s tough to come back.”

RJ Davis came in as the ACC’s leading scorer at 21.2 points a game. And while he struggled to find his shot against the Tigers, the senior stepped up in time for the Tar Heels.

He hit a 3-pointer as North Carolina wiped out Clemson’s four-point lead to move in front 39-38. He added a second to push the margin to 45-41 with 10 minutes to go. The Tigers could get no closer than two points the rest of the way to drop their second straight after their 11-1 start.

Bacot posted his 54th career double-double and helped hold Tigers top scorer PJ Hall to 10 points on 4-of-13 shooting.

The first half was a defensive struggle between two teams that rank in the bottom half of the ACC in defense.

North Carolina held the Tigers to 0-of-8 shooting from behind the arc the first 20 minutes and Clemson’s biggest outside threat, Syracuse transfer Joe Girard III, to 1-of-7 overall in the period and 1-of-10 for the game.

Chase Hunter had 17 points to lead the Tigers. Ian Schieffelin added 16 points and 11 rebounds.

The Tigers made just one of their 18 3-pointers after coming in third in the conference at more than nine long-range shots a game.

“Can’t go 1 for 18 from three and win the game,” Tigers coach Brad Brownell said. “No way to overcome that.”

North Carolina: The Tar Heels showed they could win a physical, back-and-forth game even when leaders like RJ Davis and Bacot were not at their best. It’s a good sign for North Carolina going forward.

Clemson: The Tigers strong start to the season seems like a memory after consecutive ACC losses at Miami and to the Tar Heels. Clemson needs to rediscover the scoring punch that had them the highest ACC team in the NET rankings just a week ago.

As big as Bacot’s offense was, the North Carolina center was tough on defense, too. The Tar Heels coach thought Bacot was ready to front Hall, who came in averaging 20 points. “I felt before PJ and the post players were looking for angles, I felt like particularly Armando did a good job playing defense before playing defense,” Davis explained. “Beating them to the spot and making them catch the ball maybe one, two steps further than they wanted.”

Likely say goodbye to a ranked Clemson. The Tigers had been in the past five polls, but losses to Miami and the Tar Heels this week should see them slide out.

North Carolina plays at North Carolina State on Wednesday night.

Clemson goes to Virginia Tech on Wednesday night.

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