CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — With a 60-48 loss to Virginia on Saturday, the North Carolina men's basketball team has now dropped its last seven games against UVA.
UNC's first-half shooting struggles were extreme, going just 8-32 from the field. The Tar Heels briefly gained offensive momentum with an 8-0 run after going down 22-7. Still, they could not keep up with the shooting of Virginia, giving up six makes in 12 attempts in the opening frame. UNC missed all nine of its 3-pointers in the first half.
The 18 points that North Carolina scored in the first half on Saturday was the lowest in any first half for the team all season. The big men for the Cavaliers bottled up the paint, making it difficult for UNC to convert on many of its inside shot attempts. Head coach Roy Williams said these shots were essential to the start of the game.
“We needed to make some of those early,” Williams said. “It would’ve helped us to say the least.”
North Carolina's backcourt also felt the defensive pressure of Virginia, as converting in limited offensive possessions proved to be challenging.
“We try to score on every possession, as usual,” redshirt first-year guard Anthony Harris said. “With this being a great defensive team, we had to make more of an emphasis on that. Which we failed at tonight.”
Though UNC had many slow starts in the beginning of the season, this game still serves as an anomaly.
In six of their previous seven games, the Tar Heels scored at least 75 points, including a season-high 91 against Duke in their last game.
Williams attributed this mostly to the different pacing of these games.
“If they’re a team that likes to play fast — and we do — both teams are going to score more,” Williams said.
Williams also noted that Virginia tends to control the time of possession better than most teams across the country. For a fast-paced team like UNC, this impacts the rate of scoring during games.
“They work the clock, work the clock,” Williams said. “They pass it until they get the shot that their coaching staff wants them to take.”
When UNC did have possessions, ball control was not a huge issue, as the Tar Heels recorded just eight turnovers. They simply struggled to make shots.
Virginia cooled down a bit from beyond the arc in the second half, but its ability to control the clock and force UNC into difficult shots proved to be the difference in the game.
“They’re a great defensive team,” Harris said. “Move the ball around, hit shots. Basically, just play like we’re capable of.”
In its last seven matchups against the Cavaliers, including Saturday, North Carolina has not scored more than 63 points. The Tar Heels have now lost seven consecutive games to Virginia, with its last win coming in a 2017 home game. The Tar Heels haven't won in Charlottesville since 2012.
Though Virginia did not exactly light it up offensively in any of the games, it often limited an otherwise potent UNC offense to a shell of itself.
Defense serves as the backbone for Tony Bennett’s Virginia squad, often at UNC’s expense. Though the Cavaliers are not devoid of offensive talent, controlling the game defensively is where the team typically succeeds.
“Their attention to detail on the defensive end of the floor is extremely important to them,” Williams said. “We’ve got to make attention to detail on the defensive end of the floor more important to us.”
With Saturday’s game against Virginia serving as a bump in the road, first-year guard RJ Davis said the team must not dwell on it, but move forward.
“We just gotta take it one game at a time,” Davis said. “Can’t look past the game that’s coming up. Gotta look at the errors that we made and fix them.”