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Heel Tough Blog: Virginia Recap

Updated: Feb 24

AP Photo

For the first time since 2012, the Tar Heels left Virginia with a win, after beating UVA, 54-44, to end an 8-game losing streak in John Paul Jones Arena. It was Carolina’s defense that set the tone for this game, holding Virginia to just one field goal during a 13-minute stretch in the first half, as the Cavaliers went 1-18, which allowed Carolina to open up a 21-8 lead, on the way to a 26-16 halftime margin. In the second half, Virginia would threaten, and close the gap to as little as five, but would never get any closer, as UNC prevailed with a 54-44 win. Cormac Ryan paced Carolina offensively scoring 18 points, on 6-12 shooting, with all of his made baskets coming from behind the three-point line. Armando Bacot recorded his 82nd double-double as a Tar Heel, scoring 10 points, and grabbing 13 rebounds, including a big offensive rebound off a missed free throw in the closing minute, that effectively ended the game. R.J. Davis may have seen his school record for consecutive games with multiple made three-pointers come to an end, but his 12 points helped his team to a win, and back in first place in the ACC, both of which are more important. He overcame a 1-14 night from the field, by going 9-10 from the foul line. Carolina only shot 32% from the field, but they made 15 of their 19 free throws, and connected on 7 three-pointers, all while holding Virginia to 28%, and just 2-14 from behind the arc. 

Carolina’s defensive improvement has helped propel this team to the top of the ACC, and in the conversation for making a deep NCAA Tournament run, and today it fueled them to their first win in Charlottesville in over a decade. The Cavaliers entered today having not scored more than 50  points in their last two games, and that was extended after Carolina harassed them all long, never allowing Beekamn of McKneely to get into the flow of the game offensively. 

The Tar Heels were able to build a double-digit first-half lead without Armando Bacot, who picked up two fouls before the under-12 timeout, and he never returned. Like he did in the same building a year ago, Jalen Washington gave the team big minutes off the bench, being a defensive and rebound presence, and setting screens to get shooters open from the perimeter. Cormac Ryan, who is rounding into form, made five first-half triples to carry the load offensively. In the second half, it was Bacot and Davis making the timely plays, as Carolina’s experience paved the way to a win on the road. 

A lot has been made about Carolina’s ability or inability to close out games, and when Virginia closed to within 47-42, it wasn’t certain that Carolina would win the game. UNC responded to the challenge, with a 7-2 run to the finish line, despite making just 2 of their final 12 shots. 

In a season where top 10 teams have lost left and right on the road, Carolina not only won on the road today, but it ended a historic losing streak in Charlottesville, and in the process gave Carolina the inside track to winning an ACC regular season title. Here’s what to take from the win at Virginia: 

  1. Defense: When Hubert Davis met with the media yesterday, he talked about how the week allowed them to focus on themselves, and get better defensively. Well, it appeared to have worked, because Carolina was as dominant defensively, as they were for the month of January, holding Virginia to 44 points, on 28% shooting from the field, and 14% shooting from behind the arc. They competed and contested shots as well today as they have in any game this season, and never allowed Beekman or McKneely to find a rhythm, Carolina has now won 21 straight games when they allow less than 60 points, and 13 straight games when allowing fewer than 70. 

  2. Rebounding: It was known coming in today, that Carolina was going to have an advantage on the glass, and that showed up on the court, as Carolina outrebounded its opponent for the 16th straight game, this time 43-39. Harrison Ingram and Armando Bacot both had double-digit rebounds, led by Bacot’s 13, but Carolina got a lift with Jalen Washington (6), and Jae’Lyn Wither (5), both contributing off the bench. Down the stretch when the game got tight, Carolina got important offensive rebounds that led to second-chance points, or fouls, and it helped them win the game. The Tar Heels are 13-3 in their last 16 games when they’ve outrebounded the opponent. 

  3. Cormac Ryan Has Arrived: In his last two games, Ryan was a combined 8-16 from behind the arc, and he stayed hot today going 6-11 from deep, and was Carolina’s source of offensive in the first half, as he connected on five three-pointers. During his shooting slump, Ryan never let him affect him defensively and was the type of leader that this team needed him to be. With his slump appearing to be over, it takes Carolina to another level and makes them the favorite to win an ACC title. 

  4. Turnovers: Possessions are so important against Virginia, which means you can’t afford to turn the basketball over, Carolina limited the miscues to 10, and Virginia only managed 11 points off them. Elliot Cadeau was poised all game long, only committing one turnover, which will earn more trust moving forward in tight situations, whether at home or on the road. 

  5. Bench: If you look at the box score, you’ll only see that Carolina’s bench scored just 4 points, but UNC doesn’t win today’s game without the play of Jalen Washington in the first half, and the presence that Jae’Lyn Withers provided as a defender and a rebounder. Trimble, Washington, and Withers all played double-digit minutes off the bench, and all three helped the team while the starters were either battling foul trouble or needing a breather. 

  6. Streaks Ended: Two historic streaks came to a close tonight. First off, Carolina ended its 8-game losing streak in Charlottesville, the longest such losing streak in program history, surpassing the 8 straight losses at Cameron Indoor Stadium in the 1950s. Additionally, R.J. Davis’s streak of games with multiple three-pointers came to an, after surpassing the mark set by Justin Jackson in the 2-17 national championship season. 

  7. Back in First Place: With Duke’s loss earlier today at Wake Forest, Carolina is now back in first place by a full game, with both teams having four games left to play. Of course, both teams will meet in the final game of the regular season, but UNC has the inside track to at least a share of the regular season title. 

Up Next: It’s a quick turnaround for Carolina, as they are back in action on Monday night when they host Miami. That game will tip at 7 PM on ESPN.

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