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No. 10 UNC men's basketball beats Virginia in Charlottesville for the first time since 2012, 54-44

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First-year Guard Elliot Cadeau (2) dribbles the ball during the men’s basketball game against Virginia at John Paul Jones Arena on Saturday, Feb. 24, 2024.

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — Despite racking up nine points in the first six minutes of its contest against UVA, the No. 10 UNC basketball team slowly became stagnant. 

The classically strong Virginia defense, spearheaded by head coach Tony Bennett, began to kick in, and neither team could get shots to fall.

Eventually, however, it was North Carolina (21-6, 13-3 ACC) that persevered and emerged victorious, displaying just a bit more grit to edge out Virginia (20-8, 11-6 ACC), 54-44, Saturday afternoon in UNC's first win in Charlottesville since 2012. Graduate guard Cormac Ryan led the Tar Heels in scoring with 18 points and six 3-pointers. 

"We did a good job," Ryan said. "We were locked in. It's not a fun defense to play against, that's why they make the game ugly and they do a good job at that."

Play got off to an uncharacteristically fast start against the famously low-scoring Cavaliers. Junior wing Harrison Ingram was able to notch a quick layup on UNC's second possession, which UVA immediately responded to.

A back-and-forth game ensued, but it didn't last long. After the first time out, both teams went cold. Virginia used its strong defense to force North Carolina to take bad shots, and UNC gave it right back to them at the other end of the court. 

"We really just tried to match that energy on defense," graduate center Armando Bacot said, "and get as many stops as we could, and try to extend the lead offensively." 

Towards the end of the half, it was the Tar Heels that were able to break through the Cavalier wall, capitalizing on last minute fast-breaks into the paint and step back jumpers to pull away from UVA. But, by the time the first 20 minutes had concluded, the scoreboard only read 26-16. 

UVA's 16-point performance was the lowest scoring performance from any DI team in a single half in the past two years.

In a standout afternoon, Ryan had already notched 15 points off of five 3-pointers by halftime. Senior guard RJ Davis, however, was unable to record a single basket, due to an effective defensive performance from Virginia guard Reece Beekman. 

The Cavilers only shot 17 percent on field goals and failed to make a single 3-pointer.

Coming out of the locker rooms, Virginia was fired up. It managed to score a quick six points by the first timeout of the second half, but was then silenced by yet another three from Ryan. 

The Cavaliers kept making runs throughout the first 10 minutes, but each time, the Tar Heels were able to come up with a response, and keep their lead fairly steady.

Davis was at last able to score his first points of the game with 15 minutes remaining, off a free throw attempt.

In the later parts of the second period, UVA's scoring once again slowed down, allowing the Tar Heels to maintain their comfortable lead. At the five minute mark, Virginia cut the score to under-10, but North Carolina was able to hang on. 

"It wasn't a pretty win," RJ Davis said, "It was ugly, but we [were] able to get it done just by moving [on] both ends of the floor [and by sharing] the basketball."

It kept its advantage throughout the rest of the game, to earn a 54-44 win.

The Tar Heels will next take the court on Monday at 7 p.m. to face Miami in the Dean E. Smith Center. 

@peacegwen

@dthsports | sports@dailytarheel.com

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Gwen Peace

Gwen Peace is the 2023-24 assistant sports editor at The Daily Tar Heel. She has previously served as a senior writer. Gwen is a sophomore pursuing a double major in media and journalism and peace, war and defense.