For the first time in nearly two years, the UNC men’s basketball team has suffered back-to-back losses.
Coming off a heartbreaking defeat on the road against Florida State this past Wednesday, the No. 12 Tar Heels were held in check Saturday during a 61-49 loss to the No. 8 Virginia Cavaliers in Charlottesville.
It’s no secret that Virginia head coach Tony Bennett consistently fields one of the top defensive teams in the country, but it was painfully clear against UNC (12-4, 1-2 ACC) that the Cavaliers’ pack-line system is capable of containing even the nation’s most elite offenses.
The Tar Heels converted on just 29.6 percent of their attempts from the floor as they struggled to create any type of open looks—consistently being forced into off-balance jumpers and deep shots as the shot clock expired.
On the other end, Virginia (14-1, 3-0 ACC) played with patience and carved the UNC defense up like surgeons—assisting on 16 of its 24 made field goals.
It also didn’t help that the Tar Heels turned the ball over 19 times, which Virginia converted into 25 points and a number of highlight-reel dunks.
Devon Hall’s 16 points and seven assists led the way for the Cavaliers, who dominated despite having just two players reach double figures in scoring.
Needless to say, Saturday’s performance represented the nightmare scenario any time head coach Roy Williams sees his high-tempo offensive attack matched up with Bennett’s talented, defensive-oriented squad.
“That was a big ol’ butt-kickin,” Williams told reporters after the game. “That’s all it was. Their defense was a million times stronger than our offense. We didn’t have very good movement. Instead of working to get shots, we tried to go one-on-one way too many times.
“I told Tony [Bennett], that’s about as good a defensive game I’ve had anybody play against us,” the coach added. “Maybe, ever. Definitely in a long time.”
Senior point guard Joel Berry scored a team-high 17 points for the Tar Heels, but needed 17 shots to reach that mark.
Berry and Kenny Williams—who tallied 11 points to make him the only other UNC player in double figures—each knocked down a trio of three-pointers to make up a significant portion of the Tar Heel offense. The backcourt duo combined for six of UNC’s eight made threes, which made up 24 of the team’s 49 points.
Meanwhile, junior forward Luke Maye was limited to making just two of his 10 attempts from the floor, while scoring a season-low six points.
UNC took the lead early in the game with its three-pointers falling, but Virginia wrestled it back for good midway through the first half with a pair of statement jams by Mamadi Diakite—plays made possible by poor defense and a turnover in the open floor.
Despite the final margin being just 12 points, it certainly didn’t feel that close when watching the Tar Heels have the life completely sucked out of them on the way to their second-lowest point total of the season.
“They are really good defensively, period,” Williams said. “But we can’t be that bad offensively. So we’ve got to make some changes, got to make some tweaks, got to do a few things.
“I also strongly believe what we’re doing works,” he added. “It’s worked at least a couple of weeks out of 30 years [of coaching]. So, we’ve got to do a better job of our execution, too.”
Now stuck in unfamiliar territory with its first losing streak since 2016, UNC will have to find a way to get Maye and the rest of the offense back on track.
More tough matchups in the ACC await in the near future, and there’s only so many losses that can be had before the Tar Heels’ long-term place in the conference standings is seriously affected.
The Tar Heels will return home to the Smith Center for their next game, a matchup against Boston College, on Tuesday, Jan. 9. Tip-off that night is scheduled for 8 p.m.
- UNC had won its last 11 games when coming off a loss, with the last time it lost back-to-back games coming in February 2016 against Louisville and Notre Dame.
- The Tar Heels have also lost five straight games in Charlottesville, with their last win coming in 2012.
- The most points scored against Virginia–which leads the nation in scoring defense–so far this season is 67 by VCU on Nov. 17, 2017. UNC’s season-low for points scored is 45 in a loss to Michigan State on Nov. 26.
- Virginia had 25 points off turnovers compared to just three for UNC.
Cover photo via Steve Helber (Associated Press)