Tony Bennett and the Hoos fell short against UNC.
A spirited effort, particularly defensively, had the Virginia fans at the John Paul Jones Arena excited and anticipating a win against North Carolina on Saturday. A late scoring drought, part of an overall second-half struggle on offense, quickly took the air out of that potential upset balloon though. The Tar Heels closed on an 18-7 run in the final 7:48 to steal one in Charlottesville 62-56.
UVa coach Tony Bennett credited Carolina’s increased focus on defense in the second half for making it tough on his team to find points on the floor.
“I think they did a better job defensively against us. We missed a few easy ones and we looked a little tired. We were riding those guys hard. They played so hard, effort-wise and defensively, but we had trouble. I thought some of our turnovers hurt us. Even though our offense wasn’t pretty, a couple uncharacteristic or careless turnovers took a possession away or two,” Bennett said. “Their defense was good. Whether we were tired or we got stagnant, we just couldn’t do as much in the lane. When a shot presented itself, we either didn’t take it or it didn’t go down.”
The Tar Heels’ defensive efforts held the Hoos to 26.1% shooting after halftime. For the full 20:00 of the second half, the hosts managed just 6 field goals and 19 total points. The Cavaliers did not score for a critical 3:44 spell as part of the game’s key closing stretch as well. That one section of the game allowed UNC to rally from a 50-44 deficit with 6:40 to play into the lead at 52-50 with 3:15 to play. Virginia tied it once more at 52-52 before the visitors pulled out the victory at the free throw line.
For all of the shots that UVa missed after intermission – 17 field goal attempts and 3 free throws – much of the postgame conversation shifted to a shot that was never taken. With UNC holding on to a 58-56 lead in the final 28 seconds, Virginia exited a timeout with its thoughts on a look at a game-tying or game-winning attempt. The call was for freshman Joe Harris on a version of a play the Hoos call ‘box split’ and it’s often a go-to option for them out of timeouts (stay tuned to the EDGE for a breakdown of box split).
Bennett explained his decision to go with Harris as the shooting option on the play.
“It was an option to get [Joe Harris ] a look and then if not, we had a ball screen action coming out of it. The first option was really there. I liked the feet set and the look he had. I will look at it on tape; I think he thought the guy was going to close and maybe he’d pump-fake him,” Bennett said. “I could have drawn it for [Mustapha Farrakhan ], or KT [Harrell] or Joe. Nobody was really lighting it up in the second half and Joe has a really quick release. That’s why I called it for him; I thought he could get it off if he had it. It was just a simple little play.”
Harris popped free on the wing opposite of Virginia’s bench with what appeared to be a good look at the rim. Only he didn’t pull the trigger. The ball eventually reversed back around to Jontel Evans , who attacked the rim and tried to get a score-knotting lay-up but it fell by the wayside and UNC iced the game at the free throw line the rest of the way; Evans had made two lay-ups in the final 1:04 to pull the Hoos close enough to keep things interesting.
Harris said he wishes he had taken the shot.
“I mean it’s tough thinking about it now. Obviously I wish I would have shot the ball,” Harris said. “He was up tight a little bit on me, but I still had an open enough look where I should have shot it. It’s one of those ones where I regret not taking the shot in that position. Coach drew it up for me and had the confidence in me, I should have taken the shot.”
Freshman forward Joe Harris scored 10 points.
Both Harris and his coach said the youngster will have to learn from the experience.
“It’s tough and obviously we’re all really upset with how the game ended. Carolina is a great team and we played them tough and we all thought we were going to come away with one,” Harris said. “We’ve got to bounce back. Like Mustapha was saying in the locker room after the game. He said don’t hang your heads and we’ve got to bounce back. We’ve got Duke in a week and obviously everybody knows about Duke and it’s not going to be any easier.”
“We had a chance and the ball down two and got a decent look. Joe just passed it up and he’ll learn from that. I don’t think it will happen again,” Bennett said.
The shot never taken as the game turned out essentially became a footnote among UNC’s 18-7 finish to the second half. Interestingly, UVa did the exact same thing at the end first half. After trailing for much of the opening frame, the Cavaliers created a 19-4 surge headed to the locker room. That scoring burst gave the hosts a 37-30 lead at intermission.
Harris started the half-ending run with a 3-pointer at the 8:34 mark, cutting Carolina’s lead to 26-21 at the time. Evans (11 points, 4 assists, 2 steals), Farrakhan (11 points, 2 assists), and Harrell (13 points, 5 rebounds) all contributed to the successful stretch as well. When Akil Mitchell added a 3-pointer early in the second half, the 22-4 outburst gave UVa a 40-30 lead with 17 minutes to play. But the Heels clawed back into the game and came out with the win.
“That was a nice stretch. We were kind of in the zone offensively. When you get stops and you’re in a rhythm offensively, that’s when you can push the lead out like that,” Mitchell said. “I think that was a big stretch for us, but we just couldn’t keep it going.”