Young Tar Heels' defense unable to stop Cavaliers
UNC can't get second-half stops
CHARLOTTESVILLE — With a combined nine freshmen and sophomores on its roster, the North Carolina men’s basketball team is young.
It would be easy, then, to blame UNC’s 61-52 conference-opening loss to Virginia on its youth.
But UNC coach Roy Williams says that inexperience isn’t an excuse anymore.
“You can’t say you’re young anymore,” Williams said. “We’ve played 13 games.”
The young Tar Heels (10-4, 0-1 ACC) held a one-point lead at the break and even stretched the lead to eight in the early minutes of the second half but couldn’t maintain their offensive energy and allowed UVa to jump ahead fueled by a 10-2 run.
“Just not getting back in transition, guarding the shooters, not getting to the boards — just mental breakdowns on the defensive end just cost us,” junior guard Reggie Bullock said.
In the first half the Tar Heels scored 12 points off of nine forced turnovers, but in the second half, they only scored five points from three Cavalier turnovers.
The difference maker? Jontel Evans.
The senior guard made his first appearance in four games and only fifth of the season for the Cavaliers after struggling to recover from a stress fracture in his right foot that severely limited him in the first two months of the season.
Evans came off the bench in the first half for seven minutes and recorded two points, two assists and three turnovers. But in the second half he settled in, racking up four assists and no turnovers. Evans also found his shot, scoring six more points for a season-high eight points.
“I thought Jontel (Evans) coming in was big for them,” Williams said. “Six assists, three turnovers — I think he had two or three of those turnovers in the first half.”
“I thought the second half that Jontel was really big for them. We couldn’t stop him from getting to the basket.”
Evans entered the second half after North Carolina’s 8-0 run and quickly began to turn things around. Less than a minute after stepping on the hardwood, Evans hit a jumper to kick-start the 10-2 run, completely erasing the Tar Heels’ eight-point advantage.
With just more than 10 minutes to play, Evans sunk another jumper to give Virginia a lead that lasted until the final buzzer. North Carolina was never able to regain the lead in the second half, coming only as close as one point for the final 10 minutes of the game.
“I thought our defense took hold and then they had to earn what they got the rest of the night,” Virginia coach Tony Bennett said. “(We had a) very poor start to start the second half and dug a hole. And I think because of (UNC’s) inexperience, we were able to climb back into it, whereas an experienced team might have made you pay for that.”
Sure, youth may have been a factor in the Tar Heels’ inability to close the door on Virginia in the second half, but ultimately it wasn’t inexperience that doomed the Tar Heels, it was the inability to stop Jontel Evans and the Cavaliers’ offense.