Virginia managed to put the clamps on UNC for the second time this season Saturday night in the ACC Tournament Championship Game, showing why it was ranked the unanimous top team in the country heading into the week.
The Tar Heels could never quite get comfortable offensively, as the Cavaliers escaped Brooklyn with a 71-63 victory.
Attempting to become just the second group to ever win four games in four days on the way to an ACC Tournament title, UNC (25-10, 14-8 ACC) didn’t quite have enough gas left in the tank to overcome the ferocious Virginia defense.
While it’s true the Tar Heels scored more than the 49 points they had in their earlier loss to the Cavaliers (31-2, 20-1 ACC) back in January, the struggles remained the same.
Junior forward Luke Maye kept the Tar Heels in the game early on with 15 of his game-high 20 points in the first half, while Joel Berry tallied 14 of his 17 points after halftime. But tempo is everything against Virginia, and the Cavaliers continually prevented UNC from getting good looks in transition.
Too often, the Tar Heels were forced into taking bad shots at the end of the shot clock or highly-contested jumpers off the dribble.
Considering the average quality of shot UNC was getting, the team’s 10-for-25 mark from three-point range was what kept them afloat all the way through.
The effort was there, and they never let Virginia’s lead get larger than 10 points, but it still wasn’t enough for the Tar Heels to overcome what is year-in and year-out the most disciplined team in college basketball–something Berry spoke about afterwards.
“With them and how they play–the slow pace that they have–it does kind of put pressure on you to think that you do have to go down and take a quick shot to try and get the lead back in one possession,” Berry told reporters about Virginia’s defense. “And that’s where they take advantage of teams.”
It was team defense that primarily earned the title for Virginia, however, the offense led by the backcourt trio of Devon Hall, Kyle Guy and Ty Jerome was more than efficient enough to get the job done.
Guy led the team with 16 points, while Hall added 15 on just five shots from the floor. Jerome, meanwhile, led the Cavaliers with six assists and chipped in 12 points of his own.
Virginia did all this, mind you, while turning the ball over just four times as a team, combining to make nine of their 17 three-point attempts and hitting 20 of their 22 shots from the free-throw line. The Cavaliers used this efficiency to hold at least a share of the lead for the final 37 minutes and change.
UNC entered the night having won nine of its past 11 games and had been playing as well as it has all year. It’s safe to say, though, the Tar Heels simply ran into a buzzsaw in this one.
The better team got the victory, leaving UNC to return to Chapel Hill and regroup.
As much as it would have been nice to add another ACC Tournament title, the road to the real goal begins next week as the Tar Heels look to defend their national championship in the NCAA Tournament.
“It’s not playing four days in a row that’s hard,” head coach Roy Williams said. “It’s playing Virginia on the last day. They deserve what they got.
“But my team’s getting better,” the coach added. “And we’ve got some bigger goals in front of us. We’ll need to get back to work this week after giving them some rest.”
UNC now must wait until the conclusion of the rest of the conference tournaments on Sunday to learn their next opponent and destination, when the 2018 NCAA Tournament brackets are announced.
- Saturday marked the first time in UNC’s last three games against Virginia that it scored more than 50 points (all losses).
- The last No. 6 seed to win the ACC Tournament was Maryland–a school now part of the Big Ten–back in 2004.
- UNC scored just two points on the fastbreak in this game, after recording none in its 61-49 loss to Virginia earlier this season on Jan. 6.
- It’s the third time in Virginia’s program history that it’s won the ACC Tournament title.
Cover photo via Julie Jacobson (Associated Press)