ACC Basketball: North Carolina 62, Virginia 56
By Hank Kurz
CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — North Carolina went almost 5 minutes before scoring its first points of the second half, trailed by double digits and shot horribly after halftime.
So how did the Tar Heels beat Virginia, 62-56, for their seventh win in eight games?
“It’s hard to believe, but I would say we played some great defense,” said 7-footer Tyler Zeller, who led the Tar Heels with 12 points and was their only scorer in double figures.
“One of the ugliest Ws that I’ve ever been involved with,” coach Roy Williams said.
North Carolina, which trailed as many as 11 and shot 27 percent after halftime, clamped down on defense during a 20-7 run to the lead and clinched the game by making 14 of 16 free throws in the final 5:01. The Tar Heels showed guts that Zeller appreciated.
“I think this team’s a lot tougher than last year and I think down the stretch we made some plays that last year I don’t know if we would have been able to make,” he said.
North Carolina (11-4, 1-0 Atlantic Coast Conference) was like three different teams. It made 11 of its first 17 shots in taking an early lead, then missed 18 of 20 and went 8:53 spanning the halves without a field goal before regrouping to pull it out in the end.
“Every game’s not going to be pretty,” said John Henson, whose driving lefthanded layup with 3:15 remaining gave the Tar Heels their first lead of the second half at 52-50.
The basket was part of an 8-0 run for UNC that erased a 50-44 deficit.
“You don’t ever want to win like that just because it’s harder and you didn’t do things right, but we had the toughness to fight back, and I think that’s real good,” Henson said.
Virginia (10-6, 1-1), which took its biggest lead at 43-32 on Jontel Evans’s long 3-pointer to beat the shot clock, managed only two field goals over the next 13-plus minutes.
Playing without scoring and rebounding leader Mike Scott, who is nursing an ankle injury, and with big men Assane Sene and Akil Mitchell in foul trouble, Virginia ran out of gas.
“We missed a few easy ones and we looked a little tired. We were riding those guys hard,” coach Tony Bennett said, especially of Sene, Mitchell and Will Sherrill, who played with a brace and heavy tape on the right leg he broke at the end of November.
KT Harrell led Virginia with 13 points and Jontel Evans and Mustapha Farrakhan had 11. The Cavaliers shot just 26 percent in the second half, and were outscored 17-5 at the line.
Zeller, whose hook shot broke the ice in the second half with 15:03 to play, added six points during the long run, Henson had four, and by the time the Tar Heels opened a 57-52 lead with 1:13 to play, all 10 players had scored during the 12 minutes to build the lead.
Joe Harris tied it for Virginia with a pair of free throws, but Justin Knox hit two from the line, Larry Drew hit two and Dexter Strickland one, giving the Tar Heels a 57-52 edge.
Two driving layups by Evans made it a one-possession game in the final minute, but Harrison Barnes made a free throw and Strickland hit two, and North Carolina held on.
The Cavaliers, who hit 10 consecutive shots, including nine 3-pointers in their victory against Howard earlier this week, had a similar hot streak in the first half.
Sammy Zeglinski started it with a 3-pointer, Harris hit another and Virginia made nine of 11, including another 3 by Farrakhan, and closed the half on a 16-2 run to lead 37-30.
The Associated Press