The Tar Heels took a 27-26 lead on Kennedy Meeks’s dunk with 5:51 left before halftime. Despite the Cavaliers shooting 55.5 percent up to that point, UNC had forced the pace against a UVa team that entered the game ranked 330th nationally in adjusted tempo (63.4), according to kenpom.com.
“They seduced us into a little faster game than we needed to be in,” the fifth-year UVa head coach told reporters during his postgame press conference.
Once Virginia implemented the necessary adjustments, the color of the game changed dramatically. After committing four turnovers in the opening 14:09, the Cavaliers coughed up the ball just three times during their 50-26 stroll over the next 23:38.
“They did a better job of settling down,” UNC head coach Roy Williams said. “They only had eight turnovers because they have three guys on the perimeter that really do a nice job of handling the ball. [Malcolm] Brogdon’s a point guard, London [Perrantes] is a point guard, Joe ended up 4-0 [assist-error]. They have three ball handlers. They are a very unselfish team. They very much understand who they are.”
Virginia scored on 33 of its first 57 possessions, good for a staggering 1.316 points per possession. The Cavaliers shot 48.1 percent from the floor (26-of-54) and scored 14 second-chance points on 14 offensive rebounds. They also knocked down 40 percent of their 3-point attempts (8-of-20).
The Cavaliers scored on seven straight possessions overlapping halftime, which increased their lead from 32-29 to 48-33 over a six-minute span.
UNC sophomore guard Marcus Paige echoed his coach’s comments in explaining why Virginia was so difficult to defend.
“First of all, they don’t make any mistakes,” Paige said. “And they know where guys like to score. They send Harris off down screens pretty much the entire possession, and then if you have to help off him, they’ve got active big guys that can score in the paint and they’re tough enough to go get the ball.”
The Tar Heels struggled at times in their base man-to-man, prompting Williams to switch to his 3-2 drop zone. Rebounding concerns and a handful of open looks from beyond the arc forced UNC back to man, although it was clear that the Tar Heels had no answer for Virginia’s balanced approach.
“You’ve got Joe Harris running around like a chicken with his head cut off,” sophomore forward Brice Johnson said. “He’s just running around and never stops, so he’s either going to be open or he’s going to get somebody else open… Their offense just moves well.”
Johnson opined that neither man nor the zone was more effective than the other.
Harris and Brogdon both finished with 16 points, while Justin Anderson added 13. Freshman point guard London Perrantes scored eight points and dished out nine assists against just one turnover.
In order for North Carolina to rebound from its 1-4 ACC start, the defense has to be the team’s strength. That was the case earlier in the year, but intensity – or a sense of urgency, as Williams likes to put it – has been lacking recently.
“If a guy gets beat off the dribble, earlier in the year he knew he had somebody in the help spot and someone else is helping the helper,” Paige said. “Now we’re giving up layups at the rim or we’re not getting defensive rotations to shooters. What won us those games early in the year was our attention and effort defensively.
“Our offense is not going to be the offense of the 2009 team or 2011 team, but defensively, we can be just as good as any of the teams that Coach has had, so that’s where we have to hang our hat. That’s going to determine every single game that we play.”