In the preview for the game between UNC and UVa I said that one of the keys to the game would be the tempo. The fact is that while No. 7 AP & ESPN/USA Today North Carolina (25-4 ~ 12-2 in the ACC) lost that battle against No. 25 AP Virginia (21-7 ~ 8-6 in the ACC), the Tar Heels won the war (and the game) by the final of 54 to 51, and did so having to come back from a half time decifit. For head coach Roy Williams’ team this was a tough game going in, a tough game for forty minutes and a good win playing in a type of game they are not used to and had to win to keep up with arch-rival Duke. With this game Carolina has faced 48 Top 25 teams in the last five years, with a record of 30 and 18. Had they not dug in this one they would not have gotten their 30th win in this category. If you want to wrap up this game in a sentence, this would do so: the squad set season lows for total points, assists, steals, and field goals made. If you want more read below.
“Z carried us a great deal of the time, to say the least,” North Carolina coach Roy Williams said.
Once again for Carolina it was Tyler Zeller leading the way, scoring 37% of his team’s points against Virginia. The senior was great in the beginning, scoring the first ten points for the Tar Heels, and in the end, hitting clutch free throws and then with 13.3 seconds to go giving a head fake, driving the lane and slamming home a dunk to go to give UNC the three point lead. In all Zeller, who played 31 minutes, scored 20 points, making it the 3rd game straight he has scored in double digits, and added six rebounds, having a great performance to shore up resume for ACC Player of the Year. For the big man this was the tenth time he has led his team in scoring. His front court partner, John Henson, had a double double with 15 points, making it the ninth game in a row that he had scored in double digits, and 11 rebounds in 36 minutes of playing time. This is the 21st time the junior power forward has led the squad in rebounding. While James McAdoo, who got a dozen minutes in all, scored 3 points (all from the charity stripe) and grabbed four boards. In all the Heels beat the Cavs 44 to 29 on the boards, but were only 9 to 5 ahead when it comes to the offensive boards. But what was amazing is that UNC lost to UVa in blocks seven to four.
“It was great,” Zeller said of the play in which he got the ball near the right elbow of the free throw line, dribbled twice and slammed it in. “Once I shot faked, Mike Scott was standing there, but he was kind of a little out of position to challenge it, and I knew I just had to go up and finish strong.”
In the back court Kendall Marshall, who came off a great game versus N.C. State, didn’t have as good of one today by his standards, and the tempo of the game had a lot to do with it. The floor general, who played for 37 minutes in all, scored just one point, while going 0 for 6 from the floor, and dished out six assists to two turnovers. His team mate Reggie Bullock (32 minutes) only scored three points in the game, hitting a trifecta on 1 for 3 shooting, but did grab six rebounds in all. P.J. Hairston scored five points, all in the second half, and had five rebounds while playing just eleven minutes in all. Finally we have Harrison Barnes, who in his 36 minutes of playing time didn’t have a performance that we been getting used to, with 3 for 15 shooting and 0 for 5 from beyond the arc, ending with seven points and nine boards in all.
In the end Carolina went 17 for 51 (33.3%) in this game, even worst if you consider that Zeller went for 7 for 11, meaning the rest of the squad went 10 for 40 (25%). But if you think that was bad, the squad was even worst from the outside, hitting just 2 for 14 (14.3%). However the Heels did do well from the free throw line, going 18 for 23 (78.3%). Especially in the first half if not for the Tar Heels going, and hitting, from the charity stripe this game might have not been a win for them. To be noted, in my game notes I wrote down of four (at least) point blank shots, including a pair of dunks, that the squad missed. I am not sure if that would have changed the game that much as Virginia was not going away in this one, but it might have made the margin just a tad more comfortable for North Carolina.
Just like they might face when March Madness comes around North Carolina faced a team in Virginia that plays a tempo they are not accustomed to, work hard on defense and do not turn the ball much. It was not pretty as you can see by the shooting percentages, but it was a W, and at the end of the line not all the wins are going to be pretty or lopsided. The reality of the matter is UNC had to win this game, and they did so. While some might once again want to make the storyline that this game could have gone differently if Virginia’s Mike Scott, a candidate for ACC Player of the Year, didn’t have to sit so much due to his foul problems, I believe that getting fouls is just like scoring points, it is part of the game. To this point I would also like to add that ESPN should do something about their commentators that kept on going on the fourth one the UVa player picked up. I am all for the announcers speaking their mind about the game, not about dwelling about it and keep coming back to it over and over. Coach Roy Williams said this in the postgame press conference…
“He [Henson] whipped back because there was an elbow in his face. They went back and looked at it because they were trying to decide if it was something else. I don’t think that John’s that good of an actor, and his face doesn’t run into too many elbows. I’m not saying it was flagrant or anything, but it was a foul. And I don’t think there’s anything to drawing a foul there; you don’t want to draw a foul with your face in somebody’s elbow. That’s not very pleasant.”
Now the squad comes home to play their final game at home against Maryland on Wednesday, and if all goes as planned, they head to Durham for the ACC finale against Duke, with the winner of this one taking home the regular season crown.