Virginia’s recent offensive outburst on the basketball floor continued in Chapel Hill on Saturday as the team scored more than 70 points for the fourth straight game. Unfortunately, the Cavaliers forgot to combine that with a strong defensive effort this time around and that proved costly as the run-and-gun North Carolina Tar Heels rolled to a 93-81 victory.
That’s the most points allowed all season by the Hoos (18-7, 8-4 ACC) and nearly 40 points above the 54.3 points per game they had allowed in conference games previously.
UVa coach Tony Bennett told reporters after the game that “you can’t stop everything, and we didn’t stop anything.”
Indeed, it was simply a lousy day of defense for the Cavaliers, who fell to 33-3 under Bennett when scoring at least 70 points. Carolina (17-8, 7-5 ACC) connected on 49.2% of its shot attempts, including 55.2% after halftime. The hosts drove to the rim repeatedly for easy buckets, scored frequently on offensive rebounds, and forced Virginia into some foul trouble en route to a 22-of-30 outing at the free throw line.
As if those areas aren’t tough enough for the team’s defense to overcome, the Hoos also gave up way too many looks from the 3-point line where the Heels made 13 of 28 3-pointers (46.4%), their most in ACC play this season. That hot shooting day from beyond the arc surpassed UNC’s season showing by a full 10 percentage points (36.3%). Virginia entered the game among the top 10 nationally in 3-point field goal percentage defense by allowing 28.5%.
North Carolina’s P.J. Hairston did the most damage with a career-high effort for the second straight game. He made 6 of 12 triples and 8 of 14 shots overall to finish with 29 points and 7 rebounds. Reggie Bullock added 11 points (3 of 7 treys), 4 assists, and 4 steals, while a previously struggling Marcus Paige made 3 of 5 3-pointers as part of his 17-point day. Dexter Strickland chipped in 12 as well.
Joe Harris ripped the nets for 27 points, a new career high.
“We certainly couldn’t keep up in the second half. Hat’s off to them. They were on fire with their shooting and Hairston was terrific,” Bennett said on the Virginia Sports Radio Network. “But we certainly got away from trying to make them shoot contested shots, fell apart on screens, couldn’t keep the ball [in front of us]. They certainly looked like the superior team in the second half and that was discouraging because there’s a way we have to try to play to be successful in this environment and I thought we varied from it. Certainly there were some nice things that happened, some individual plays, but that’s a hard way to beat Carolina in their building.”
The struggles on defense squandered another good showing on offense, something that has become increasingly common over the past month. The Cavaliers, after all, have averaged 74.4 points per game this month and 78.0 points over the past four contests. The 81 points on Saturday marked the second time in three games that the team has reached that territory on the scoreboard as well.
In what surprises no one following the Hoos lately, Joe Harris set the tone on that end of the floor with another monstrous performance. Finishing in a variety of ways, Harris poured in a career-high scoring total for the second straight game as well. He made 10 of 13 shots, including 4 of 6 triples, to post 27 points. It marks the fourth consecutive contest and the fifth time in six games that Harris has surpassed the 20-point plateau. Over the last six games, the junior has made 44 of 72 shots, a torrid 61.1% pace.
“It was Harris and Hairston. It was a day for the H’s, the H boys. It was kind of a shootout, made for TV game or radio. Maybe either way,” Bennett “Joe certainly made some tough plays and you saw some of his individual abilities on display. Same with Hairston.”
The team as a whole had it going on offense where it made 31 of 53 shots (58.5%) and 12 of 21 3-pointers (57.1%). The Cavaliers have made at least 9 triples in each of the last five games and 10 or more in three of the last four outings.
The Cavaliers head to Miami on Tuesday for their next ACC challenge.
Jontel Evans scored 12 points after overcoming a shaky first half with turnovers to finish with 5 assists and 6 turnovers on the day. Akil Mitchell and Paul Jesperson came up with 9 points each, while Justin Anderson added 8 points and 5 assists.
Those scoring efforts were cancelled out by 14 turnovers with just 12 assists as well as the aforementioned shaky defense.
“Their defense is a lot of fool’s gold. They show you things that might not really be there and I feel like we got tricked into a couple of quick shots and quick decisions and a lot of dumb mistakes,” Mitchell said on the Virginia Sports Radio Network. “It’s just something you learn from.”
Mitchell also said that the Hoos have to put this loss behind them and focus on the next game, a road tilt Tuesday night at Miami.
“It’s just a little awakening. We’ve been hot the last couple of games and I feel like we got a little complacent and we just didn’t do the things we knew we needed to do. Going forward, we understand what we have to do,” Mitchell said on the Virginia Sports Radio Network. “I think we’ll be fine. … We’ve got to be focused on the next game. I feel like the guys so far have done a pretty good job of that and everybody will be up for this Miami game. They’re a good team.”