In need of a pre-exam break pick-me-up following a disappointing performance at Purdue, the Virginia basketball team secured a solid ACC win at home Sunday afternoon. The Cavaliers got a better defensive outing and more balanced scoring to dismiss North Carolina, 56-47.
While the game still was far from a gem, it did feature a little more resiliency and determination than the 69-40 setback against the Boilermakers earlier in the week. UVA coach Tony Bennett said that it is still a work in progress, but a determined style is one that this team needs to embrace.
“That is who we are right now. We have to fight and scrap and play with guts,” Bennett said. “Sometimes we have, sometimes we haven’t. We have to continue to be sound with our decision making and I think our inexperience shows up often. We are not quite used to being in that spot. … Part of this is a learning curve and part of this is trying to find ways. You have to grind it out and that is who we are this year.”
The Cavaliers found some reinforcements to help get the job done Sunday. Tomas Woldetensae, Justin McKoy, and Francisco Caffaro combined for just 30 minutes and 6 points at Purdue, while Kody Stattmann played 24 minutes with only 2 points. They didn’t make a single 3-pointer, didn’t get to the free throw line, and combined for 7 rebounds in that game as well.
That quartet made much bigger contributions against the Tar Heels. They combined for 32 points in 95 minutes Sunday. That included 4 3-pointers, 8 made free throws, and 17 rebounds.
Stattmann started the game and logged 27 minutes. He scored 7 points with 1 triple and added 2 rebounds and 1 blocked shot. He had no turnovers. The remaining three players came off the bench and helped UVA post a 25-10 advantage in scoring by the reserves. Woldetensae led the way with 11 points thanks to 3-of-4 shooting from 3-point range. He also had 3 rebounds, 2 steals, and 1 assist with only 1 turnover in 30 minutes.
On the interior, Caffaro logged 21 minutes and made the most of them. He scored 10 points on 4-of-5 shooting and posted 7 rebounds with 1 blocked shot. McKoy, meanwhile, played 17 minutes and scored 4 points from the free throw line. He also had 5 rebounds and 1 steal.
“I thought Francisco and Justin were good because of their effort and their heart,” Bennett said. “They were setting some good screens and then Francisco was on the glass offensively and so was Justin. Then defensively, it allowed us sometimes, with his size, to play one-on-one on the post. He loves physicality. A lot of times I’ve coached a couple big physical guys in my time here. Jack Salt loved to screen, loved physicality. He is new to the game, he is unorthodox the way he moves but that was really important. I thought Kody and Tomas gave us a lift. We needed it all but I liked how we embraced it. We are far from perfect. Carolina and us are both trying to find our way but you just have to fight and I am just thankful those guys came to the party and responded from a thorough can of you know what at Purdue.”
With more scoring balance in hand, it allowed Virginia’s more known quantities to take hold against North Carolina. Mamadi Diakite pushed through a tough outing with 6 turnovers to put up 12 points, 3 rebounds, 1 assist, and 1 blocked shot, and 1 steal. Kihei Clark struggled to hit shots by going 1-8, but he got to the free throw line and produced 7 points to go with 6 assists and 3 steals.
Clark also spearheaded a defensive effort that left the Heels frustrated. The visitors shot 37% (17-46) and just 7.1% from 3-point range (1-14). They managed just 54.5% from the free throw line too (12-22). While the Heels had 12 turnovers, they also produced just 6 assists.
The only players in double figures were Cole Anthony an Armando Bacot, who had 12 and 11 respectively. Anthony made just 4 of 15 shots and 1 of 6 3-pointers. He had no assists and 6 turnovers as Clark pestered him for much of the day. Bacot came back from an ankle injury to have a decent day as he made 5 of 8 shots and blocked a pair of shots.
After scoring just 49 points against Ohio State earlier in the week, the Tar Heels’ 47 points Sunday marked a first in Roy Williams’ tenure at UNC. His teams had never scored sub-50 in back-to-back games until this week and the Carolina program hadn’t done it since 1947-1948. Williams would be born two years later.
“Well this is the most frustrated I’ve ever been,” Williams said. “I’ve been very lucky coaching wise but this is the most frustrated I’ve ever been. I don’t think we’re playing basketball the way that I want us to play and that is probably the most frustrating. Pushing the pace, sharing the ball, competing like crazy. I’ve been very fortunate over the years to find the right buttons to push to get guys to do that and I haven’t found the right buttons to push to get these guys to do it that way.”
It all added up to the fifth straight win against Carolina for the Hoos. That’s the longest string in the series for UVA since a five-game winning streak from 1918-20. The latest victory sends the Hoos into a 10-day hiatus for exams with an 8-1 overall record and a 2-0 mark in the ACC.
“Definitely after that last game we just wanted to come back this game and put it all on the line straight away because we knew North Carolina would come back strong-minded because they had a big loss as well,” Stattmann said. “So, just to come back at our house as well and get a big win after a bad loss is what we really wanted.”