Tar Heels embrace the pace by beating UVA at its own game

UNC regained sole possession of first place in the ACC by holding the Cavaliers to the second-lowest point total in Smith Center history in a 65-41 rout

Rob Kinnan—USA Today Sports
Feb 18

CHAPEL HILL — “Embrace the Pace” has become a rallying cry for the Virginia basketball team under coach Tony Bennett. It’s a mantra originally designed to motivate the Cavaliers’ fan base by encouraging it to buy into Bennett’s slow-paced, defensive style of play. Saturday night, it also motivated ACC rival North Carolina. The Tar Heels embraced the pace, all right, showing that they can be just as potent in a low-scoring game as they are when there are biscuits on the line. By holding UVA to the second-lowest point total in Smith Center history, coach Roy Williams’ 10th-ranked team beat the Cavaliers at their own game in rolling to a 65-41 rout. “We had to play a slower pace, which isn’t what we want to do,” guard Joel Berry said. “We did a good job of playing their game.” The numbers were staggering. UNC, which came into the game ranked 10th in the ACC in 3-point field goal defense, forced UVA into missing its first 17 attempts from beyond the arc. It ended up 2 of 20 for the game. The Tar Heels (23-5, 11-3) limited the Cavaliers to just 27.8 percent shooting overall (15 for 54) while holding them scoreless for five minutes or more on three separate occasions. Bennett’s team came into the game as the second-best shooting team in the league at 48.9 percent. UVA’s 41 points were its fewest against UNC since getting held to 38 in 1947. They were also the fewest by any visiting team at the Tar Heels’ current home since Clemson scored 39 in a loss in 1995. And yet, as impressive as UNC’s effort was statistically, Williams said afterward that his team was more lucky than good. “We were playing pretty well defensively sometimes and sometimes they got wide-open shots and they just didn’t go in,” the Tar Heels coach said. “… I’ll have to look at the tape, because I’m not really pleased defensively with anything we did right now. We made more shots than they did, but I don’t know that we covered them better than they covered us.” While Berry acknowledged that the Cavaliers did miss some open looks, he also thought his coach might be a little harsh in his assessment of UNC’s defense. Or maybe he was just trying to be a little motivational. “I think the reason why Coach said that is because we can get better on the defensive end,” Berry said. “We just don’t want to get complacent.” The Tar Heels were anything but complacent once they broke the game open with a 17-3 run midway through the first half. Though they were able to get more runouts than UVA usually allows, thanks in large measure to the number of missed long-range shots it missed, UNC also did a good job of staying patient against the Cavaliers’ confounding pack line defense. “We wanted to try to push the tempo, but we didn’t want to take bad shots,” Williams said. “You can make it really fast, but if you go down and take bad shots and miss them, then they go to the other end and you play defense all night.” Justin Jackson did most of the early damage by scoring 18 of his 20 points in the first half. “I just kind of got into a little rhythm,” he said. “That’s all it was.” When Jackson cooled off in the second half, the Tar Heels looked to go inside where Kennedy Meeks and Isaiah Hicks combined to do most of the damage. They were the only two other UNC players in double figures with 13 and 10 points, respectively. The Tar Heels’ 65 points were the fewest they have scored in a win this year and 21.5 fewer than their ACC-leading average. But they were also 11 more than UVA’s league-leading average of 55.5 points allowed. That, Meeks said, is a good sign as UNC heads down the stretch run of the regular season in sole possession of the ACC lead. “I think (this game) shows we’re capable of playing either way,” the senior center said in his team’s ability to embrace the Cavaliers’ slower pace. “We want to be a great team. That’s what we strive for everyday. I think we did a great job of what Coach asked of us this entire week and getting a win.”