Playing its third away game in eight days, the Virginia basketball team couldn’t conjure up any more road magic in Chapel Hill on Saturday. The Cavaliers took the lead for a brief 16 seconds in the early going, but spent most of the day trailing on the scoreboard. They never found a comeback rabbit to pull from their hats, however, and North Carolina pulled away to a comfortable 74-58 win.
The loss snapped a seven-game winning streak in the series for UVA. It marked UNC’s first win in the series since February 18, 2017.
“You’ve got to come into these games with an edge and alert and I didn’t think we had that,” Virginia coach Tony Bennett said. “I told the guys, you’ve got to keep your head up but I said you gotta open up your ears and your mind to what just happened. We did not have two great days of prep. I thought we were not as alert and as sharp as we needed to be.”
The missing edge showed up quickly and the Hoos only sporadically found the competitive grit needed to win league games on the road. On the first possession of the game, Armaan Franklin was whistled for a foul just 15 seconds in. On the second possession, Carolina’s Armando Bacot moved Kadin Shedrick out of the way for an offensive rebound and scored easily. A few minutes later, Brady Manek sprinted down the middle of the floor and scored an uncontested transition layup.
Those all were early signs of a team not quite on top of its game. The Bacot and Manek buckets proved to be significant foreshadowing as well. The duo teamed up for 48 points on a combined 61.3% shooting as they terrorized the Cavalier defense on the inside and outside.
Bacot took care of the first part as he dominated the paint. At first, the damage came on the offensive glass but eventually he took it to defenders in the post as well. By the end of the afternoon, he had poured in 29 points and 21 rebounds on 12-18 shooting. That included 9 offensive rebounds that helped fuel his team’s 14 second chance points. Many of his baskets came as UVA struggled to recover from ball screen rotations defensively. Bacot’s 20-20 double-double was the first against Virginia since last century when Wake Forest’s Tim Duncan had 21 points and 23 rebounds on Feb. 22, 1997.
Manek complemented that paint work with some strong outside shooting. He made 5 of 9 3-pointers in the game. The first of those was a reasonably contested shot in the corner, but as the game progressed he got several uncontested attempts from downtown and he made the Hoos pay. Manek’s final line was an impressive 19 points, 5 rebounds, and 5 assists.
Caleb Love joined the attack with 16 points on the strength of 4-9 3-point shooting and 5 assists as that trio provided the majority of the scoring punch. North Carolina shot 47.5% from the field (28-59) that included 44.0% from 3-point range (11-25), won the rebounding battle 36-28, and had just 9 turnovers.
“Look, if Love is making a lot of those tough shots he made, you can live with that but some of those areas that got us, whether it was transition buckets or turnovers and then what they did to us with some of the easy buckets they got, I thought we yielded and that was frustrating,” Bennett said. “We’ll try to grow from it and learn from it, but if you look at Bacot and Manek in the frontcourt, they had their way.”
The Hoos tried to hang in there offensively and got some decent statistical outings, but it wasn’t enough firepower once Carolina got going. Reece Beekman led the way with 13 points on 6-12 shooting. He added 3 rebounds, 4 assists, and 3 steals. Franklin posted 12 points on 5-10 shooting to go with 3 rebounds and 2 assists, while Jayden Gardner had 10 points on 5-10 shooting and 7 rebounds. Kihei Clark chipped in 9 points on 3-11 shooting to go with 7 rebounds,2 assists, and 1 steal. Kody Stattmann hit both of his 3-point attempts off the bench to score 6 points, while Carson McCorkle made both of his shots for 4 points.
The Cavaliers shot 44.6% (25-56) overall that included 50.0% from 3-point range (6-12), but they also squandered some early transition attempts when the game was still at a narrow margin. Virginia committed 10 turnovers too and only got the line for 4 free throw attempts. Most of Gardner’s production, for example, came on short mid-range jumpers and a few fouls he did draw were not on shooting attempts. The Tar Heels also made 5 more 3-pointers despite the Hoos’ efficient day behind the arc and that +15 was too much to overcome.
Throw in the fact that the UVA combo of Kadin Shedrick and Francisco Caffaro combined for 2 points and 2 rebounds, while Bacot was cooking on the other end and there just wasn’t enough offensive output to keep up without a much better defensive performance.
“I think the storyline came with how easily they took advantage of us defensively in certain ways and we just weren’t right,” Bennett said.