Virginia basketball coach Tony Bennett clapped ferociously. London Perrantes called for the ball in the closing seconds and then slapped high fives with fans after the final buzzer. Kyle Guy smiled broadly for the ESPN cameras and soaked up the atmosphere.
Yes, you could say the Cavaliers wanted this one in a big way.
Just nine days after North Carolina smoked the Hoos, 65-41, in a national ESPN College Gameday contest, Virginia got gritty, clamped down defensively, and flipped the script in a 53-43 win against the Tar Heels Monday night. The 34-point turnaround pushed the Cavaliers to 20-9 on the season and 10-7 in the ACC, the sixth straight season with 20 wins and the fifth straight season with 10 league wins.
“Absolutely. I think that when we were in Chapel Hill, we were a completely different team and we did not take it personally on the defensive end,” UVA’s Devon Hall said. “They were just getting anything they wanted – lobs, dunks, and wide-open jumpers, and we were kind of not ourselves. I think each guy individually took it personally deep down inside to step up his game.”
“I think we took that [loss] so personally,” said Guy, who called the blowout at UNC a butt whipping in his ESPN interview. “I think it was probably the best thing that could have happened to us against that team, and we wanted to make a big statement coming back home.”
If Virginia is going to make a statement, big or otherwise, rest assured it will start on the defensive end. That’s the foundation of Bennett’s program and it was on full display Monday night. The Hoos held the Heels to 43 points, the lowest point total for any team under head coach Roy Williams. The previous low of 45 came against Syracuse on Jan. 11, 2014 at UNC (a 57-45 loss) and against Kentucky on Dec. 1, 1998 at Kansas. (a 63-45 loss). The Tar Heels had not had a scoring output this low since posting 40 against Duke in 1979 before the shot clock.
Carolina entered the game averaging 86.4 points per game, but couldn’t get anywhere near that on this night. In the first half, turnovers proved to be the main culprit as the visitors tallied 12 turnovers that led to 18 UVA points. In the second half, the Heels fixed that issue with only 2 turnovers but they struggled to hit shots as they went 8-of-29 shooting after intermission, a paltry 27.6%. UVA registered 8 blocked shots and 6 steals.
Joel Berry II finished as the lone Heel in double figures with 12 points. Virginia held Justin Jackson to 7 points on 3-of-10 shooting, a defensive challenge accepted and spearheaded by London Perrantes. UVA’s senior point guard was frustrated when Jackson ripped the Hoos’ D for 20 points on 7-of-14 shooting in the first meeting and embraced the assignment Monday despite a six-inch height difference.
“I was looking forward to playing against [Justin Jackson] and against North Carolina, especially after how the first game went,” Perrantes said. “That was probably the most frustrated I have ever been just from a defensive standpoint. I felt like he could get whatever he wanted in the first game, especially in the first half, and when coach told me that I was going to guard him I just was ready, I wanted to be that. I thought that I could do it, I believed in myself, the team believed in me, and I just knew that if we were going to win the game that I had to do what I had to do.”
The Cavaliers’ defensive effort allowed them to overcome a poor shooting night of their own. The hosts landed at 32.2% (19 of 59), including 25.7% (9 of 35) on 2-point shots. On the other hand, UVA did log assists on 15 of 19 made baskets and committed only 4 turnovers. Plus, the Hoos hit 41.7% of their 3-pointers (10 of 24) to help pile up enough points.
For the second straight game, Guy and Perrantes led that arc attack. Guy made 5 of 7 triples for the second straight game and finished with 17 points, 6 rebounds, 4 assists, and 1 steal in 32 minutes. Perrantes, meanwhile, made 3 of 8 3-pointers to end up with 13 points, 4 assists, and 2 steals. Devon Hall added a 3-pointer too as part of an 11-point night to go with 5 assists.
As has often happened in his career, Perrantes came up with two of those treys at an opportune time. UNC used a 10-2 run to cut Virginia’s lead to 40-39 in the second half, but Perrantes answered with back-to-back 3-pointers to suppress the surge. Perrantes also hit is third 3-pointer in the final four minutes. That came on a night when Perrantes became the program’s all-time leader in career starts with 129.
“We need that. We’re going to have to make outside shots, because that’s just who we are,” Cavalier coach Tony Bennett said. “Kyle banked one in the first half, which we’ll take, and they banked one in too. I said at halftime that was fair. Guy’s playing with more freedom, moving hard, and had some good pump fakes. London obviously hit that big one at the top of the key. We needed it all.”