MEN'S BASKETBALL: No. 23 Virginia 53, No. 5 North Carolina 43

UNC men's basketball can't overcome Virginia defense in lowest scoring output since 1979

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North Carolina guard Joel Berry (2) and wings Justin Jackson (44) and Theo Pinson (1) walk back to the locker room after losing to UVA 53-43 on Monday. 

For all that went wrong, the North Carolina men's basketball team was still right there.

After a two-handed outlet pass from Justin Jackson landed in the hands of Tony Bradley and the first-year forward finished under the basket with just under nine and a half minutes left, the No. 5 Tar Heels trailed by just one point against No. 23 Virginia inside John Paul Jones Arena on Monday night.

It didn't matter that UNC (25-6, 13-4 ACC) had more turnovers than made field goals in the first half. It didn't matter that the Cavaliers (20-9, 10-7 ACC) began the second half on a 6-0 run to take a 10-point lead. After the Bradley bucket, North Carolina was in the hunt.

But that was as close as the Tar Heels would get.

On Virginia's next possession, senior guard London Perrantes bled the clock for 26 seconds before hitting a 3-pointer. And after almost two more scoreless minutes for both teams, Perrantes buried another to give his team a seven-point lead.

"When they hit shots like that you just know, like, 'Dang, we go down and score but we still have to play 30 seconds on the other end,'" junior wing Theo Pinson said. "But at the same time, we got a lot of guys who have been there before, and we just made it a little tough on ourselves."

Virginia never looked back, cruising to a 53-43 win over the Tar Heels and holding UNC to its lowest-scoring outing since 1979.

It wasn't the outcome the beginning of the night alluded to. North Carolina opened with a 7-0 run over the first 3:19 of the game. But then came a 12-0 Virginia run. And then came the turnovers. Tons of them. By the end, the Tar Heels had committed 14 turnovers — they hadn't had more than 12 in a single game since losing to Miami on Jan. 28.

But still, North Carolina trailed by just four at the break — something head coach Roy Williams viewed as nothing short of a miracle.

"I told them (at halftime) I felt like I was one of the luckiest guys in the world because I feel like the way we played, we could have been down 30," he said.

The Tar Heels went cold to open the second half, missing their first four shots against an aggressive Cavalier defense. And after cutting it to one with nine minutes left, North Carolina made just one field goal the rest of the night.

Part of the reason UNC struggled so much down the stretch was Virginia's defensive game plan against Jackson. Perrantes was tasked with guarding the Tar Heels' leading scorer, who entered the game ranked sixth in the ACC in points per game (18.8).

Perrantes stayed with Jackson through every ball screen and every backdoor cut. The junior wing finished the game with just seven points — his worst scoring performance since tallying seven against Tennessee on Dec. 11.

It didn't help matters that the rest of his teammates were bone dry from the field. Junior guard Joel Berry was the only Tar Heel in double figures, and the starting frontcourt combined for 8 points total on 4-of-11 shooting. With the rest of the roster in a funk, Jackson began to play a little bit of hero ball — and did so quite unsuccessfully.

"Some of it was just me taking some bad shots, honestly," Jackson said. "And I can't do that for this team."

Jackson missed six of his final seven shots Monday night. The last two were desperation threes to try and give North Carolina any signs of life, something it had just a few minutes before. 

But it was to no avail. The Tar Heels weren't getting back into it. Despite being so close with less than 10 minutes left — on the precipice of an outright ACC regular-season title — there was no overcoming a Virginia team looking to turn its season around.

"Right there" was as close as they could get. 

@jbo_vernon

sports@dailytarheel.com

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