For the eighth straight time, Carolina traveled to Virginia, and for the eighth straight time they got beat, as Virginia erased a 29-27 halftime deficit to beat Carolina 65-58, and in the process, established themselves as the team to beat in the ACC. The Tar Heels entered tonight’s game without Pete Nance and were even further compromised when Armando Bacot left the game with 18:14 left in the first half, with a sprained left ankle, and wouldn’t return. Following the exit of Bacot, Carolina found itself down 10-3, before going on an extended 21-5 run, to build a 25-15 lead, but could never make it a double-digit margin, and a late half collapse saw the lead go away completely. In the second half, Virginia would shoot 50% from behind the arc, to power their offense to victory.
This was the first time in five games in Charlottesville, that UNC passed the 50 point threshold, but it wasn’t a pretty box score for the visitors. Carolina shot 40% from the field, 33% from behind the arc, and committed 13 turnovers, which was just too much for a team without two starters to overcome. Three players scored double figures led by R.J. Davis and his team-high, 16 points. Meanwhile, Caleb Love added 13, and freshman Jalen Washington provided a spark off the bench, scoring a career-high 13 points, in 27 minutes, the most of his young Tar Heel career. As for Virginia, they had four players score in double figures, led by Ben Vander Plas, who scored a game-high 17 points, as he made three, three-pointers in the game.
Entering tonight’s game, the winner was going to emerge as the favorite to win the ACC, despite not being in first place. Carolina came to Charlottesville seeking their first road win of the season, but that will now have to wait until Saturday when they visit Louisville, and at 11-6, and just 3-3 in the ACC, this is still a team that has more questions than answers:
Bacot’s Injury: After leaving the game in the first half, we didn’t see Bacot again until the second half, when he showed up on the bench wearing sweats. The fact that he didn’t appear to be wearing a boot is a good sign, and hopefully, he’ll be able to play on Saturday, as Carolina’s frontcourt is already compromised with the season-ending injury to Will Shaver, and Pete Nance still dealing with a sore back.
Turnovers: You know going into a matchup with Virginia, that valuing possessions is paramount, and that simply didn’t happen tonight, as Carolina committed 13 turnovers, which led to 19 Cavaliers points. What’s even more frustrating is that both Love and Davis committed four turnovers each, as their decision-making, was at an all-time low so far this season. On the flip side, Hubert Davis refused to press until the game was hanging in the balance, and Virginia turned it over just 8 times, leading to a lowly 10 points for UNC.
Points in the Paint: Another issue tonight was Carolina’s inability to keep Virginia from getting to the rim, as they scored 32 points in the paint, compared to just 20 for UNC. The low production could be attributed to the absence of Bacot, but the concern is on the defensive end, as all Carolina's guards were blown by consistently all game long. The more that Kihei Clark probed the lane, the more that Carolina had to help on defense, leading to clean looks from the perimeter in the second half, where Carolina allowed 38 points.
Jalen Washington: The lone bright spot coming out of tonight’s loss was the performance of Jalen Washington, as the freshman came off the bench to score 13 points, and grab 6 rebounds. Washington missed the start of the season, as he continued to rehab from an ACL injury that forced him to miss his final season of high school basketball. He displayed a variety of different scoring moves and displayed why Hubert Davis called him the best shooting big man he’s ever seen. Even when Bacot and Nance get healthy, Washington has proven he belongs on the court in ACC action and should have a role moving forward.
Up Next: Carolina remains on the road, as they travel to Louisville to take on the last place Cardinals on Saturday. The game will tip at 2 PM on ESPN.