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Cormac Ryan's hot shooting lifts No. 10 UNC men's hoops to road win at UVA

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Graduate forward Cormac Ryan (3) shoots a three-pointer during the men’s basketball game against Virginia at John Paul Jones Arena on Saturday, Feb. 24, 2024.

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — Cormac Ryan was soaking wet. 

After the Tar Heels' 54-44 win over Virginia in John Paul Jones Arena, the No. 10 North Carolina men's basketball team was jumping around the visitor's locker room, music blasting out of the custom UNC-branded Bumpboxx sitting on Harrison Ingram's shoulder. Ryan walked in, and RJ Davis ran up to him, proceeding to dump the team's water cooler all over Ryan's head. 

It wasn't for no reason. The graduate guard scored 18 points off of six 3-pointers to guide the Tar Heels to their first win in Charlottesville since February 25, 2012. Five of those baskets came in the opening 20 minutes — part UNC's season-low 26 first half points. The game was the first time that Ryan has led North Carolina in scoring, and marked his most 3-pointers a game as a Tar Heel.

And, considering the fact Saturday marked the fewest points UNC has scored in any victory since 2012 — in its 54-51 victory against Virginia, for that matter — there may have been no other game where Ryan's scoring was as desperately needed.

“A lot of it is just trusting my work, trusting the work that I put in," Ryan said. "I worked really hard to get to where I am now.”

He believed his shots were going to fall, and fall they did. That sort of split-second decision making is especially crucial against a team like Virginia, which is known for its defensive prowess.

When Ryan got the ball on the perimeter, he shot it. And over half of those times, it went in. 

“That was huge for us, from the standpoint of him making them,” head coach Hubert Davis said.

Without those shots, especially in the first period, UNC would have been completely shut down offensively. However, the Tar Heels had been practicing breaking through the Cavalier's pack line defense all week.

Ryan said the team they drilled getting through the hard hedge and heavy help that Virginia is known for, as well as kicking the ball out to the perimeter for as many open threes as possible.

They didn't just emphasize offensive production, however — they also worked on their own defense to challenge the Cavaliers on their home turf. Ryan, who is particularly passionate about defense, took that to heart.

He was all over the court, trying to block shots and close out on his man. 

"They have a different style of play and they’re famous for it," Ryan said. "They’re well coached, they slow the game down tremendously, and they’re disciplined. They do what they do and so you know that, you take that as a given but you also have to come in with confidence and attack it because I think a big part of it is not letting that intimidate you.”

That's exactly what he did — attack Virginia on both ends of the court. Throughout the night, he was so fired up that he continuously traded jabs with the UVA players, racked up four personal fouls (the most on the team), and threw up a "shh" sign after he knocked down one of his threes.

He also hyped up his own team, during timeouts and on the court. That energy and confidence fueled them and pumped them up to perform better themselves. 

"He’s one of those players that gets us going," senior guard RJ Davis said "He’s intense, but it’s good for this team because I don't think we’ve ever had that type of player, in terms of him being vocal."

In the end, that intensity, energy and skill helped the Tar Heels gain the edge over the Cavaliers and snap their eight-game losing streak at John Paul Jones. 

"For him to come out and play a game like that, that’s something we need," RJ Davis said, "and [something] we know Cormac is capable of.”

@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.