UNC coach Hubert Davis after big win over Duke: 'Jesus has given me this opportunity'

Saturday’s rivalry game between North Carolina and No. 4 Duke was supposed to be all about coach Mike Krzyzewski in the final home game of his legendary 42-year Blue Devils career before he retires at the end of this season.

But first-year UNC coach Hubert Davis and his players had other plans.

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The Tar Heels, despite being 11.5-point underdogs and with 96 former Duke players looking on, stormed into Cameron Indoor Stadium and spoiled the celebration as they departed with a 94-81 win.

As the contest was the final home game for Krzyzewski, it was the first game at Duke for Davis as the Tar Heels’ head coach. And Davis, a devout follower of Christ, incorporated the wisdom of the Bible into his plan to ready his team for what it would face.

“I kept giving them Proverbs 4:25, (paraphrased) keep your eyes straight ahead; ignore all sideshow distractions,” Davis said in Saturday’s postgame press conference. “Every day on the practice plan, I put in Proverbs 4:25 and I said, ‘Just focus on the things that we need to focus on, let all that sideshow stuff go on and let’s focus on what we need to do to put ourselves in a position to be successful.'”

Saturday’s victory was perhaps one of the most important for the Tar Heels in the history of the rivalry, not only because of Krzyzewski’s pending retirement but because of UNC’s previously precarious position on the NCAA Tournament bubble. Now with a road win against the No. 4 team in the country, the Tar Heels will breathe a bit easier on Selection Sunday as their spot in the tourney field is all but assured. In his bracket prediction released Monday, ESPN’s Joe Lunardi believes North Carolina will receive a No. 8 seed.

Davis’ first season as head coach of the Tar Heels hasn’t been without criticism. After suffering some early-season blowout losses to Tennessee, Kentucky and others, Davis’ ability to lead a blue blood program like North Carolina was questioned. Yet after Saturday’s result, 11 wins in its last 13 games, a second-place tie behind ACC regular-season champion Duke, and a 23-8 overall record, Krzyzewski praised Davis for the way he’s coached his team and way he had the Tar Heels prepared on Saturday.

Davis said he sought to block out the external criticism early in the season, through it all remaining grateful to God for the gift of leading the program he played for from 1988-1992.

“I do this job because I feel like Jesus has given me this opportunity to be in these kids’ lives and to help them — to coach them — to be the best that they can be on the court, in the classroom and in the community,” Davis said in Saturday’s press conference.

Davis was also asked about his faith during a press conference introducing him as the new coach of the Tar Heels in April.

“[Faith is] the most important thing to me,” he said. “My faith and foundation is firmly in my relationship with Jesus. It just is. … My faith in Christ is the foundation of who I am. When I say that I will walk this path in my own shoes and my personality, my own shoes and my personality is my faith.”

Davis first joined the Tar Heel coaching staff as an assistant to Hall of Famer Roy Williams before the 2012-13 season.

“The reason why I made this decision [to return to North Carolina as an assistant], No. 1, is this is where I felt like Christ wanted me and my family to go,” Davis said on the “UNPACKIN’ it” podcast in 2014. “Wherever He wants us to go, I’m following Him. I’m not going any other direction. … This is not a job, it feels like a mission field, a ministry opportunity.”

He continued later, “I’m here to serve and shed light on and be an example for Christ.”

Davis will lead his Tar Heels in the ACC Tournament this week in Brooklyn, New York. North Carolina is the No. 3 seed, therefore receiving a double-bye. UNC will play its first game on Thursday at 9:30 p.m. ET against either Virginia, Louisville or Georgia Tech.

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