“You can hope and pray and turn your mouth a certain way, but the bottom line is that you have to put the ball in the basket,” Roy Williams said concerning his team’s shooting woes.
What a difference a year can make. UNC (10-4, 2-2 ACC) left town with a 34-point win in Pete Gillen’s final campaign as the Cavaliers’ head coach – a game in which the Tar Heels led by as many as 50 in the second half.
This season’s match-up featured almost an entirely new cast of characters in Carolina blue, while Virginia was sporting new coach Dave Leitao on the sidelines.
Picked to finish last by the ACC sportswriters last October, the Cavaliers (9-6, 3-2) followed up Sunday’s win at Virginia Tech with a victory largely due to J.R. Reynolds scoring 10 of his 16 points in the last 11 minutes when Virginia built a big enough lead to hold on down the stretch.
The Tar Heels pulled to within 64-61 on two free throws by Reyshawn Terry with 2:51 left, but Sean Singletary responded with two of his own and Reynolds took advantage of a UNC turnover by adding two foul shots to extend the Cavs’ lead.
“In the beginning stages, I need wins like this to legitimize what I yell and scream about at practice everyday,” Leitao said.
“After [UConn coach Jim Calhoun], there is nobody in this sport that I respect more than Roy Williams. To be able to compete and win (this game) means a lot for our guys and it means a lot for our program.”
With a Sunday trip to Florida State looming, the solution to Carolina’s problem rests not so much with its opponents as itself.
Seemingly missing from a team that surprised its fans with a better than expected preseason showing, is the shooting, guard play and transition game that propelled UNC to a quick 10-2 start to the season.
And Carolina’s defense, while stellar at times earlier this year, has had trouble of late getting the stops it needs to enable a comeback – especially against the quality guard tandems of Miami and Virginia.
“[Virginia’s] guards dominated the game, controlling the tempo,” Williams said. “Our failure to convert on the offensive end of the floor was more important than what happened defensively – they only shot 37.9 percent. Usually that’s pretty good defensively if you can force some turnovers with that and get something on the other end.”
However, the Tar Heels didn’t pressure the ball effectively for most of the night. The Cavaliers, which were averaging 15.3 turnovers per game, committed only 10.
“To really make a run you have to be scoring and getting stops,” Williams said. “We couldn’t get enough stops. Their guards not turning it over was huge.”
Tyler Hansbrough recorded his second-career double-double with 18 points and 10 rebounds, while David Noel also accomplished the feat with 14 and 10.
Still, despite Hansbrough’s impressive scoring numbers, and as was a problem in Saturday’s loss to Miami, Carolina continues to have difficulty getting the ball into him when it counts as he faces more and more double- and triple-teams.
From an unusually somber UNC dressing room following the game, many of the Tar Heel players were despondent and quick to administer blame inward.
When asked what the team could do better to get the ball inside to Hansbrough in the late stages of games, he simply replied, “I just have to move better.”
One way to open up passing lanes to Hansbrough would be with solid outside shooting. However the Tar Heels have been miserable shooting of late.
Noel, the team’s normally optimistic leader admitted he was at a loss for words. But he did question himself out loud.
“I don’t know what I need to say to these guys,” Noel said.
Terry’s 11 points represented the only other UNC player in double figures, but on 3-of-9 shooting from the floor, including just 1-for-5 from three-point range.
After trailing by as many as 10 with 8:43 remaining in the first half, the Tar Heels rallied to take a 29-27 lead into halftime following a 15-3 run. Carolina took its first lead of the game with 3:26 to go in the opening period.