The Virginia basketball team hadn’t seen a day like this in a long time. How long? Three to six years depending on the day.
In a top 15 showdown with No. 10 North Carolina, the No. 14 Cavaliers saw the wheels wobble and then fall off in Chapel Hill. The Tar Heels cruised to a 65-41 win Saturday night that left the Hoo nation in soul-searching mode. UVA had not lost by a margin that large since Dec. 30, 2013, a 35-point defeat at Tennessee. It also marked the first time since January 2011 that Virginia dropped three straight games, a stretch that also included Duke and UNC.
“Offensively, we struggled. I mean it’s no mystery that we don’t score a ton inside so when we’re missing some perimeter shots – some were pretty good shots – that puts a lot of pressure on us defensively,” Cavalier coach Tony Bennett said. “Their offensive talent really got going. I think our poor offense hurt our defense and it sort of turned into one of those deals.”
Struggled may not be strong enough of a word. The Hoos shot 27% for the game (15 of 54), including just 10% from 3-point range (2-20). That led to 22 points in the first half and only 19 more after intermission. Virginia’s made field goals, shooting percentage, and points all checked in as season lows.
Marial Shayok, who went 6-12, and Jack Salt, who went 1-2, shot 50% from the floor while the rest of the roster made 8 of 30 attempts (26.7%). Shayok finished with 13 points to lead the team, while London Perrantes added 12 thanks to a 5 of 5 night at the free throw line. Devon Hall (0-7), Ty Jerome (0-6), and Kyle Guy (0-5) combined to finish 0-18 shooting.
Anyway you slice and dice those numbers, it doesn’t look pretty. Several of the shots missed the rim entirely during a cold night offensively. North Carolina coach Roy Williams wasn’t sure that his team’s defense even influenced the Hoos’ rough night that much.
“I have the utmost respect for [Tony Bennett] and his club, and I have never seen his team miss that many shots,” Williams said. “We were playing pretty defensively sometimes, and sometimes they got wide-open shots and they just didn’t go in. That happens in the game of basketball. Nobody’s done a better job the last three years in the country than Tony Bennett has, and I really like him as a person too.”
Bennett thought his team got some good looks, but didn’t take advantage of many.
”We got some,” Bennett said. ”Boy, whenever we had them, I don’t know if it was enough to be close enough in this game. But we certainly had some. You feel that. You get a good look and boom we’re kind of building a house with some of the bricks we put up there.”
With Virginia’s offense mired in the tundra, North Carolina took control of the game with a good night of its own. The Tar Heels shot 46.6% from the floor (27-58), including 36.8% from 3-point range (7-19). Five different players made at least half of their shots.
Justin Jackson led the way for the Heels with 20 points and 6 assists; he made 7 of 14 shots. Jackson pushed his team ahead with an 18-point first half. Kennedy Meeks posted 13 points and 7 rebounds thanks to a strong second half. Isaiah Hicks added 10 points, while Theo Pinson chipped in 9. The Hoos had no answer for Jackson in the first half and never truly buckled down defensively.
The 24-point loss leaves Virginia with less than 48 hours to figure out how to stop this three-game slide and put some bounce back in its step. Perhaps, Malcolm Brogdon can give the team an emotional lift on Monday when the reigning ACC Player of the Year will be in the John Paul Jones Arena. UVA will retire Brogdon’s No. 15 in a pregame ceremony expected to begin at 6:40 p.m.
“I mean we said you have a choice when you get smacked in the face like that,” Bennett said. “You can either lay down or you can get back up and try to fight. We play a good Miami team with a quick turnaround. This will be our fourth game in a short amount of time and we’ve got to some how, some way find ways to improve and tighten up in those areas.”