CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (AP) North Carolina coach Hubert Davis watched his 17th-ranked Tar Heels spend the first half tearing through 10th-ranked Tennessee's defense by pushing pace, sharing the ball and getting clean looks.
It all left Volunteers coach Rick Barnes nothing short of bewildered.
RJ Davis scored 27 points while UNC built a huge lead and then held off a second-half push for a 100-92 win on Wednesday night in the inaugural ACC/SEC Challenge.
Armando Bacot added 22 points and 11 rebounds for the Tar Heels (6-1), who dominated the opening 20 minutes to lead by as many as 23 and score 61 points by halftime. That lead grew to 76-52 early in the second half before the Volunteers (4-3) flirted with a miraculous comeback behind a career-best performance from Northern Colorado transfer Dalton Knecht with 37 points.
“When obviously I'm playing at my best, Harrison (Ingram), RJ, Elliot (Cadeau), Cormac (Ryan) - I mean, it's hard to stop our team,” Bacot said. “We've got a lot of different weapons.”
It was all working for the Tar Heels in that opening half that ultimately decided the game.
UNC shot 58% before the break while making 7 of 16 3-pointers and tallying 13 assists on its 19 baskets. The Tar Heels also went 16 for 16 at the line, nearly matching Tennessee’s season defensive scoring allowance (61.5) by the break.
“From an offensive standpoint, it was one of the better halves since I've been here for 12 years as an assistant and a head coach," Hubert Davis said. "It was pretty special.”
And on the other sideline?
“To be honest," Barnes said, "I was baffled, to be quite frank with you.”
Knecht, the 6-foot-6 guard, scored 22 of his 37 points after the break before going down late with an ankle injury. Josiah-Jordan James added 20 points for Tennessee, which shot 56% overall while making 8 of 16 3s after halftime to get back in it.
Tennessee: This marked the first time the Volunteers had played three straight ranked nonconference teams in the same season, following losses to now-No. 1 Purdue and then-No. 1 Kansas in last week's Maui Invitational. Offense wasn't the problem; rather, it was the inability to stop the Tar Heels in the first half from crisply moving the ball and getting clean looks against a defense ranked No. 1 nationally by KenPom (87.6 points allowed per 100 possessions).
North Carolina: The Tar Heels lost to now-No. 18 Villanova in a tough overtime game in the Battle 4 Atlantis but beat then-ranked Arkansas in the third-place game in the Bahamas. An offseason roster overhaul is showing promising early signs, along with the ongoing development of an elite passer in Cadeau (10 assists, no turnovers) as a freshman point guard.
Knecht was hurt when he rolled his left ankle while being fouled on a drive with 1:39 left, with Barnes saying he stepped on a player's foot. Knecht had to be helped to the bench and didn’t return, and he needed a trainer's assistance while slowly walking to a UNC training room after the game.
Knecht's 37 points tied the Smith Center scoring record for a UNC opponent, first set by La Salle's Lionel Simmons in 1988.
Tennessee: The Volunteers host George Mason on Tuesday.
North Carolina: The Tar Heels open Atlantic Coast Conference play Saturday against visiting Florida State.
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