Cold marble typically shows as much emotion as Justin Jackson does when he plays. The junior forward for the North Carolina basketball team wears a look of detached focus on the court.
But in UNC’s 65-41 win against No. 14 Virginia, Jackson drove the lane and finished a floater through contact — part of his team-leading 20 points. The ball sunk through the hoop, the whistle blew for the foul and Jackson pounded his chest, sounding a barbaric yawp.
It was that kind of night for him and his team.
The game featured a clash of the ACC’s best, as UNC’s conference-leading offense met Virginia’s top-ranked defense. After a rough shooting start, the Tar Heels settled into a groove in the first half. In a ten-minute stretch, UNC rattled off a 20-4 run to take control of the game.
The Tar Heels, who have been searching for defensive consistency for much of the season, found some relief against a slow Virginia offense. UNC limited the Cavaliers to 41 points in 40 minutes, and Virginia shot only 15-54 from the field.
The high number of missed shots allowed the Tar Heels to push the game’s tempo faster than the glacial pace preferred by Virginia, particularly in the second half. The Cavaliers could draw no closer and UNC coasted through much of the second half for the win.
Who stood out?
Jackson did nearly all of his damage in the first half, heading into the locker room with 18 points on 6-8 shooting, including 4-6 from deep. He’s showcased improved confidence from three-point range all season, and did so on Saturday night. On one play, he drove the baseline and kicked the ball out to freshman Seventh Woods before knocking down a catch-and-shoot three.
UNC’s post duo of Kennedy Meeks and Isaiah Hicks were the only other Tar Heels to finish with double-digit points, cutting through Virginia’s famed packline defense. Sophomore Luke Maye also continued his strong play of late, contributing five points during UNC’s first half run that sealed the game.
When was it decided?
Virginia took an early 8-5 lead in the first half, but four points from Justin Jackson, including a three-pointer from the top of the key, retook the lead for UNC before the under-12 media timeout. From there, UNC continued on a 20-4 run, burying Virginia.
Why does it matter?
Even if Virginia is in a bit of tailspin with three straight losses, UNC’s win still keeps it at the head of an ultra-competitive ACC. The win, particularly in the way the Tar Heels played defensively, also evoked memories of UNC’s run through the Maui Invitational tournament.
So far, that’s been the best UNC has played all season. That’s also the level UNC will have to play at if it hopes to avenge last season’s NCAA title loss. A good defensive win against a perennially good Cavaliers team is exactly what the Tar Heels want to see.
Where do they play next?
The Tar Heels will host No. 8 Louisville on Wednesday. Tip is scheduled for 9 p.m.
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