Sean Singletary poured in 27 points, but the Cavs lost their seventh straight.
It was a different story for Virginia on Tuesday night in Charlottesville, but the Cavalier men’s basketball team received the same result. UVa hung tough for 40 minutes with fifth-ranked North Carolina, even threatening to pull the upset late, before falling 75-74 at the John Paul Jones Arena.
The Hoos (11-12, 1-9 ACC) showed they still have some fight despite a nightmare start to the ACC season, but as has been the case all year, they just could not find a way to put themselves in the win column. Virginia has now lost seven straight games, the program’s longest skid since 2002-03. The Cavs also own their worst start in ACC play since 1976-77, the last time a UVa team opened 1-9 in league play.
“It’s a tight ball game,” Virginia coach Dave Leitao said. “That’s just about how every game is in this league. You are going to have to find a way to get over the hump and we have not done that.”
Virginia had its chances down the stretch Tuesday. Jamil Tucker nailed a 3-pointer courtesy of a Calvin Baker pass to bring the score within 71-68 with 3:24 to play. The Cavaliers stopped North Carolina (23-2, 8-2 ACC) on its next possession and found itself with chances to pull even with the Heels. From the 2:59 mark to the 2:11 mark, Virginia could not cash in as 3-point attempts to tie the game by Mamadi Diane , Jamil Tucker , and Sean Singletary bounced off the rim.
“Offensively, when you don’t have a margin of error and you get open shots as we got … you got to make those,” Leitao said. “You don’t have any choice. By not making them, it puts so much pressure on other areas of the game that any good team is going to exploit it.”
After Singletary’s miss, North Carolina came out and used good ball movement to eventually find Wayne Ellington, who converted around the basket with 1:39 to play. However, Virginia answered as Singletary found Baker wide open on the right wing and he buried the trey with 51.7 seconds remaining to cut the lead to two.
“I thought Sean Singletary showed what a great player he was,” Carolina coach Roy Williams said. “Because we were trying to make sure that he didn’t get the three, so he drew two players to him and Baker made a big-time shot, but Sean made the play because he drew two people to him, and that’s what great players do is make people better.”
On its next trip, North Carolina responded with a big basket from its big man. All-American Tyler Hansbrough caught the ball on the right block, and despite good defense from Lars Mikalauskas, managed to fling the ball into the basket after drawing contact, like he has done so many times during his collegiate career.
Ryan Pettinella defends UNC’s Tyler Hansbrough, who scored 23 points.
“We like to think it’s a jump hook but it’s not,” Williams said. “It’s a shot put, jump hook, Hansbrough special or whatever you want to call it.”
The Cavaliers did not go away quietly, though. Singletary quickly nailed a 3-pointer with 10 seconds remaining. That proved to be the last gasp, however, as the hosts were out of timeouts and unable to foul until 2.9 seconds remained on the game clock. Wayne Ellington missed the front-end of the one-and-one, but Danny Green kept the ball alive to run out the clock.
“The ball came in quick,” Leitao said. “The receiver got it out of his hands and now you are chasing people down and it becomes a simple child’s game of keep-away. We knew we wanted to foul, we knew we needed to foul, and I don’t fault the guys for not fouling. It’s just that it was a very difficult thing because the ball came in so quick.”
The game looked like it might get out of hand early as North Carolina jumped out to a 20-7 lead with 10:16 to play thanks to a 3-pointer from point guard Quentin Thomas. Virginia responded, though, with a 24-10 run over the next eight minutes. The stretch was capped off by a Baker floater that gave Virginia a 31-30 lead with 2:43 to play in the half. North Carolina then came back with an 8-0 run of its own to close the half with a 38-31 lead.
Hansbrough led the way for North Carolina with 23 points, 17 coming in the opening period.
Singletary again led Virginia with 27 points on 9-of-20 shooting. Sixteen of his points came in the second half. The Cavs still struggled to find reliable scoring help alongside their star point guard; only one other player posted a double-digit performance as Baker contributed 10 points.
“I thought that offensively we still didn’t have the kind of rhythm [we need],” Leitao said. “And as a result, [we’re] not having contributions in terms of spreading the wealth that you need to be successful.”
Although Virginia looked the best it has since Boston College and hung in with one of the nation’s elite teams, Leitao will not buy in to this as a “moral victory” for his Cavaliers.
“To believe in anything like that means that I take the mentality of somebody that doesn’t believe in winning,” Leitao said. “As I just said to the guys, competitive sports is a cruel, cruel game. Either you win or you lose. Winners are revered and losers go home. I don’t think they are going to put any asterisk on anything.”