Rejuvenated Virginia postpones UNCs title celebration

The Tar Heels will have to wait until its regular season finale against Duke on Saturday for another chance at winning the 21st undisputed ACC regular season championship in school history

Geoff Burke—USA Today Sports
Feb 27

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — Hold off on raising that outright ACC regular season championship banner and perhaps etching Justin Jackson’s name on that league Player of the Year trophy. What was starting to look like foregone conclusions for the North Carolina basketball team and its leading scorer got a whole lot more uncertain Monday thanks to an inspired effort by a rejuvenated Virginia. The Tar Heels could have claimed the title all to themselves with a win against a team it beat by 24 points just nine days earlier in Chapel Hill. But the Cavaliers kept it from happening by holding them to their lowest point total of the Roy Williams era and pulling away for a 53-43 victory. UNC will have to wait until its regular season finale against Duke on Saturday for another chance at winning the 21st undisputed crown in school history. “The most aggressive team won tonight. The best team tonight won,” Williams said after his team shot just 35.4 percent from the floor, turned the ball over 12 times in the first half and got outscored 14-11 on second chance points by its smaller opponent. “Their defense was a lot stronger and more aggressive than our offense.” It was especially relentless on Jackson, who earlier Monday was named the ACC’s Player of the Week for the second time this season. Shadowed constantly by UVA’s London Perrantes, Jackson had trouble getting his hands on the ball at times, let alone finding open looks at the basket. The junior forward, who came into the game averaging 18.8 points managed only 10 shots against the Cavaliers. He made only three and went 1 for 6 from beyond the 3-point line. His seven points were tied for the fewest he’s scored in a game this year. “They just stayed attached and made it as hard as possible for me to get a decent look at it,” Jackson said. “Hats off to them. They did exactly what their coach told the to do and forced me into some bad shots that ended up hurting us on the other end. I just have to do a better job of staying patient and making better decisions.” Jackson was hardly alone in that regard. With the exception of Joel Berry, the only UNC player in double figures with 12 points, and reserve center Tony Bradley, who added eight, everyone on the floor seemed out of sorts. The Tar Heels (25-6, 13-4) were never the same after scoring the game’s first seven points. The momentum turned with a 12-0 UVA run that was aided by four straight turnovers. And things only got worse from there. UNC committed 12 turnovers in the opening 20 minutes, as many as they had for the entire game in each of their last seven contests. They finished the night with nearly as many turnovers (14) as field goals (17) while scoring only three more points total than they did in the first half of their win at Pittsburgh on Saturday. Their 43 points were the fewest by the Tar Heels since a 47-40 loss to Duke in the infamous pre-shot clock stall game of 1979 — a game in which the Blue Devils led 7-0 at the intermission. While UNC was coming unhinged offensively, the Cavaliers were only too happy to take advantage. Although they didn’t exactly light it up either, shooting 32.2 percent from the floor, they were able to ring up 10 3-pointers, half of which came from freshman Kyle Guy. Making only his second career start, Guy led both teams with 17 points, including an accidental trey off the glass midway through the first half that summed up the night for both teams. The result and the way it came about was an almost complete reversal of UNC’s 65-41 win on Feb. 18, in which UVA made just two 3-pointers and shot 28 percent as a team. The Cavaliers (20-9, 10-7) got outrebounded 44-26 in that game. This time the margin was only 38-35. “We knew the last game they missed a lot of shots,” said Kennedy Meeks, who finished with six points and seven rebounds. “In this game we knew they would come out hot and we tried to defend the best way we could. They really didn’t do anything different. We just have to be more assertive.” Or as UVA coach Tony Bennett put it: “This is the time of year where softness does not work.” His Cavaliers showed their toughness, especially when Perrantes hit back-to-back 3-pointers after UNC had closed the gap to 40-39 with 9½ minutes remaining. Now it’s up to the Tar Heels to see if they have enough of it to bounce back and take the regular season title for themselves or if they’ll have to share it with at least one other team. “This is just another bump in the road,” junior Theo Pinson said. “If it wa