For the second consecutive season, the John Paul Jones Arena was a house of horrors for the North Carolina Tar Heel offense. On February 27, 2016, Virginia held the Tar Heels to 43 points, the lowest point total with Roy Williams as UNC’s head coach. The defending national champions didn’t fare much better Saturday afternoon, falling to the Cavaliers inside a raucous JPJ, 61-49.
Virginia, ranked No. 8 in the latest AP poll, improves to 14-1 overall, 3-0 in the ACC thanks to the victory. The Cavaliers have now won five straight home games against North Carolina and five of the last six regular season meetings between the two programs. Before today’s outcome, North Carolina (12-4, 1-2), which dropped an 81-80 decision to Florida State earlier in the week, had not lost consecutive games since February of 2016.
Coming off a blowout victory at Virginia Tech, a confident Cavalier team was focused with the No. 12 Tar Heels coming to Charlottesville.
“We talked about having an undivided mind today, knowing we had to put our best against their best and we played some really good defense,” said Virginia head coach Tony Bennett, whose team forced 19 turnovers and three shot-clock violations. “The guys did a good job individually, and I think the crowd helped out with some of those shot clock violations, as did individual on-ball slides and bothering shots. Obviously, I looked at those 19 offensive rebounds (by UNC) and I thought we lacked at times in that area, but how can you fault the collective team defense that we played today. I want to point out the individual slides to bother the shot, mostly. You saw [Joel] Berry get going in that stretch, and you can see how dangerous he is.”
Disappointed in his team’s effort, North Carolina head coach Roy Williams was also highly complimentary of the Cavalier defensive effort.
“It’s a big ol’ butt-kicking, is all it was,” Williams said. “Their defense was a million times stronger than our offense. We didn’t have very good movement. Instead of working to get shots, we sort of tried to go one-on-one way too many times. We didn’t get as much as we needed to from taking the ball to the basket. Their defense was really good. I told Tony it’s about as good of a defensive game as I’ve had anybody play against us, and maybe ever, but that was a long time. Last year, they played at our place and couldn’t make a shot. Today we played here and couldn’t make a shot, but last year they just missed. I think today their defense caused us to miss. I thought [Joel Berry II] competed his buns off, made a couple big shots that kept us in it. We just acted like we had never been coached and so that falls onto me. I could’ve done a better job of coaching this team. Guys, there is not a heck of a lot more to say.”
UNC started hot, making its first three shots while grabbing an 8-5 advantage before its first miss. The success would not last, however, as Virginia held the Tar Heels to 13-of-51 shooting — 25.5% — the rest of the way. Turnovers were key, as the Cavaliers amassed 25 points off of the 19 Tar Heel turnovers. Additionally, UVA had seven steals and six blocks while UNC had only seven assists. The Cavaliers were outrebounded by a 42-30 margin, including 19-10 on the offensive glass, but UNC managed only 12 second-chance points.
Guard Devon Hall led Virginia’s offensive attack, scoring 16 points on an efficient 6-of-8 shooting that included a perfect 4-of-4 from beyond the arc. Hall scored five points in the final four minutes of the first half, when the Hoos extended a 2-point advantage (26-24) to seven (35-28) at halftime. The senior captain dished out seven of his team’s 16 assists on the day.
As for the rest of the Cavaliers’ starters, Ty Jerome (8), Kyle Guy (7), Isaiah Wilkins (6) and Jack Salt (4) accounted for 25 points. Virginia’s bench provided a spark for the second straight game, adding 20 points including 10 from redshirt freshman De’Andre Hunter, who also had seven boards, as well as six points from guard Nigel Johnson and four from forward Mamadi Diakite.
Fresh off a 14-point outing against Virginia Tech, the 6’7” Hunter is establishing a nice role for himself on this team. He had seven second half points this afternoon, including two huge plays. The first, a highlight-reel dunk over UNC’s star point guard Joel Berry II, gave UVA a 9-point lead at the 12:42 mark of the second half.
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A more important play came with 6:41 remaining, when North Carolina had cut an 11-point deficit down to six. On this play, Hunter converted a turnaround jumper on the block, preventing Carolina a chance to get to within one possession. An Isaiah Wilkins dunk on Virginia’s next possession and stifling defense shut the door on any comeback. The visitors would score only one point in the final seven minutes and change of this game.
“Honestly, no. I probably wouldn’t have,” Hunter said when asked if he would have had the confidence to take the key turnaround jumper earlier in the season. “Now I feel a lot more comfortable in that spot and taking those shots.”
Hunter, a natural wing, is seeing a lot of action at the “4” position when Virginia goes to a four-guard lineup. He gives the Hoos added flexibility when teams go small, something UNC did to try and spark its offense down the stretch.
“He is really skilled,” Wilkins said of Hunter. “We moved him to the four for the Virginia Tech game and he started playing really well there. I am encouraging him to try and exploit those mismatches because I know it is harder to guard a perimeter guy who is playing the four. I just tell him to attack. He is seeming to find his groove right now, which is good.”
Berry’s 13 second-half points kept his team afloat as UNC scored only 21 second-half points in total. The senior point guard matched his season average with 17 points. Richmond (VA) native shooting guard Kenny Williams contributed 11 points and was the only other UNC player to reach double figures. Forward Luke Maye, who was the Tar Heels’ leading scorer heading into today’s game, finished with only six points on 2-of-10 shooting while being hounded for most of the game by Wilkins.
“I think that the captains take a lot of pride in defending and things like that,” Wilkins said. “I know for a fact I do, especially coming into this game wanting a win. I know Devon [Hall] does the same thing and he was telling the guys in the huddle that he had [Joel] Berry, that he was going just to try and slow him down, and Jack [Salt] does the same thing. He is guarding guys one-on-one on the inside. It is personal and that is how we take it.”
“I take all my match-ups personally,” Wilkins said. “This was a game like we had against Davidson, where their four man was able to stretch us and things like that. I take all of these match-ups seriously. I did not want [Maye] to score. I tried to frustrate him and things like that and went from there.”
Virginia looks to maintain its undefeated start in ACC competition on Tuesday, January 9, when the Hoos host Syracuse. The Orange are 12-4 overall, 1-2 in conference play after dropping a 51-49 decision at home to a depleted Notre Dame team today.