Yet again, North Carolina (13-8, 2-4 ACC) was felled by an opponent's huge run. An Ed Davis layup early in the second half was the only field goal North Carolina scored for nearly ten minutes. Virginia (13-6, 4-2 ACC), meanwhile, poured in 18 straight points, putting a three-point game definitively out of reach.
Buoyed by 14 first-half points by hot-shooting Will Graves, the Tar Heels weathered Sylven Landsberg's 16 points in the opening stanza, going into the locker room down 35-30 despite nine turnovers and a woeful 34.5 precent shooting percentage. But the two players went in opposite directions after halftime. Graves notched only a single free throw to finish with 15, while Landesberg continued to score off the dribble and from the foul line, finishing with 29 points.
Landesberg, who entered the contest with six 20-point games, looked effortless in leading three Cavaliers in double figures. Virginia shot 51.9 percent for the game, including a 30-16 advantage in the paint. They also outscored the Tar Heels 8-4 in fast break points, effectively negating any advantage Carolina may have brought into the game.
After his 18-point, 7-assist performance at N.C. State, Larry Drew finished with 15 points but only 3 assists and 3 turnovers. No other Tar Heel scored in double-figures.
INSIDE THE GAME
Of Carolina's flaws this season, few have been as alarming as its inability to avoid long offensive lapses. It was a frigid night outside in Chapel Hill, but inside the Dean Dome, it felt even colder. Only two late baskets by walk-on Terrence Petree kept Carolina from equaling its lowest scoring total under Roy Williams (56, at Kentucky in 2004). The Tar Heels finished the night with just three more field goals (20) than turnovers (17).
After hitting Carolina's first basket, Deon Thompson was held to just one field goal the rest of the game. Ed Davis, meanwhile, received hardly any touches in scoring position. When he did, Virginia double teams led to three turnovers, several questionable shot attempts, and one charging foul.
Without any production from its interior players, the Tar Heels were forced to rely on jump shots — and true to form, they struggled. Excepting Graves' early barrage of three pointers and Drew's last ditch effort to hold Carolina within shouting distance, no one was able to establish any semblance of offensive rhythm. Twenty-one games into the 2009-2010 season, the Tar Heels still have no idea where to look when they must have a basket.
"We've got to start helping each other," Marcus Ginyard said. "Everybody's trying to do it on their own right now. We're not helping each other get open. We're not helping each other get better shots. There's no chance to win like that."
The Tar Heels' woes were a painful contrast to the seemingly effortless performance by Virginia. The Cavaliers' guards repeatedly used high screens to free themselves for penetration into the lane, where they either scored or dished to open teammates on the perimeter. And even though Landesberg arrived with the proverbial asterisk next to his name in the scouting report, Carolina's defense had no answer for him.
Virginia head coach Tony Bennett got exactly what he wanted from his team on his first visit to the Smith Center. So it was no wonder he was smiling from ear to ear during his postgame press conference.
"I thought we cut extremely hard," Bennett said of his team's motion on offense. "We got a little stagnant at the end of our game against Virginia Tech, so we really went to work. We needed to make some outside shots, and we needed to bounce a little bit, cut real hard, make the extra pass. All those things happened, and this is probably the best we've moved the ball, shared the ball."
Bennett, who carried his father Dick Bennett's reputation for coaching tough defense and patient, meticulous offense into his first head coaching job at Washington State, clearly has his Virginia club reading from the same gospel. The Cavaliers routinely kept working their cuts and screens for 20 seconds or more each possession, rarely settling for a hurried shot. When Carolina began trapping late in the game in an effort to speed up the tempo, Virginia never looked rattled.
After the game, Bennett credited his team with learning tough lessons from their previous loss, at home to Virginia Tech.
"We were up 10 with three minutes and lost that [game]," he said. "So that was my challenge to them. I said a lot of teams would probably hang their heads and come into a situation like this not fighting. But I told them to be different, and I thought they [were]. Our guys were really ready to play. I was happy to see it."
Meanwhile, Roy Williams spent his postgame press conference repeating the same words that have become his mantra over the last month. "I haven't done a good job with my basketball team," he said. "I really thought we'd play well, but we didn't come out with the intensity we wanted. I've got to do a better job. I feel like a stuck record."
Baffled by his team's inability to respond when challenged, Williams appears as disheartened as he has been at any time since he arrived in Chapel Hill.
"I'm about as frustrated and as disappointed as I've been in my entire life," Williams confessed. "I've been fortunate to have some great moments, but this is definitely not one of them…. My gosh, guys, how can we go any lower? Be honest. How could it be any worse than it is right now?"
If the head coach doesn't have the answers, his players surely don't.
Asked where his teammates' intensity went after a focused victory Tuesday night in Raleigh, Will Graves could only shrug.
"I don't know,' he said. " I can't explain it. All I can say is that we've got to keep fighting, not give up. There's nothing to say anymore. We just have to play."
"I've been through the success," Graves continued. "I've been with the teams in the past where people have bought in to what [Coach] is preaching. For us not to buy into it, for us not to give 100 percent every night, I can see why he's disappointed."
So where does the team go from here?
"I don't know," Thompson said, perfectly summing up the state of the season.
"We had long practices getting ready for this," Thompson continued. "But the intensity wasn't there as a group. I don't know why it wasn't there. It was just a lack of something."
If someone is going to find an answer, they'd better hurry. Because without changes soon, the list of things Carolina lacks will include a berth in the NCAA Tournament.