In question were a face-up game that hadn’t yet surfaced, concern about his court awareness, and an edge that didn’t yet mirror – or come close to - the Tyler Hansbrough era at UNC.
Never mind the stats, so much, as double-doubles against the Gardner-Webb’s of the world are nice, but don’t reveal much in the grand scheme of things. Nevada, though, is in a much higher rent district, and that’s why Davis’ performance in UNC’s 80-73 victory over the Wolf Pack on Sunday night at the Smith Center should be plenty encouraging to anyone with a rooting interest in the Tar Heels.
As a team, Carolina needed to fight for this victory. Nevada is a solid club that could end up in the NCAA Tournament not only because it may win its league (WAC) but also because it’s a worthy ball club. This was a quality win.
And while there are several players who took it upon themselves to help lift the Heels to the victory, it was Davis’ play on both ends of the floor that was most inspiring, and the other Heels fed off his tenacity.
“When Ed plays like that, I get excited,” Deon Thompson said.
Roy Williams knew the lanky left-hander had it in him. He has seen plenty of flashes.
“Ed’s had some big moments for us,” Williams said. “Last year at Virginia Tech he blocked seven or eight shots or something like that and was pretty competitive at that time. But it’s a man’s game on the backboards, and when you have 16 points and 15 rebounds, that’s a big night for anybody.”
In the first half alone, Davis converted a jumper from the free throw line (face the basket, check), handed out a nifty assist to John Henson for a dunk (court awareness, check), and fought hard to grab an offensive rebound before converting the put-back to give UNC a 46-39 lead (edge, check).
A more well-rounded game had arrived, and it was a sight to behold for his teammates.
“He’s definitely worked on the 15-foot jump shot and facing up,” Thompson said. “He doesn’t want to be a one-dimensional player. And tonight he showed his offensive array of skills.”
In the second half, however, Davis put all of these needed attributes together for the entire period. In addition to his points and rebounds, Davis blocked three shots and handed out a pair of assists, including an aware kick out to Larry Drew for a 3-pointer to give UNC a 72-67 lead with 4:57 remaining.
Davis appeared more athletic than at any previous time wearing Carolina blue, and it couldn’t have come at a better time. It offered balance to another excellent performance by Thompson (23 points, eight rebounds), giving UNC a lethal tandem in the paint it needs every night.
“I worked this summer really hard on my jump shot and just facing the basket and expanding my game overall,” Davis said. “It clears up down low for Deon so they won’t double on him, and we will both have great spacing.”
But it wasn’t just a more refined skill set that made a difference, it was Davis’ tenacity, grit and determination. He scrapped, banged and flexed a rugged exterior that is crucial to Carolina’s development.
And it’s the kind of consistent effort that is mandatory if UNC is to challenge for an ACC title.
“Coach and myself have actually been getting on him because he’s so laid back and he’s so cool all the time,” Thompson said. “He’s ‘Easy Ed’ – that’s his nickname because he’s always taking it so easy.
“But I tell him all the time that he can be a leader on this team with his actions and that guys will respond to things that he says, and when he plays like that we’re pretty tough to beat.”