North Carolina’s (12-4, 1-2 ACC) Head Coach, Roy Williams, described it as “a big ol’ buttkick” as the Virginia Cavalier’s (14-1, 3-0 ACC) patented pack-line defense forced the Tar Heels into 29.6% shooting as well as 19 turnovers. Senior leaders Devon Hall and Isaiah Wilkins paced the Hoos on both ends of floor, with Hall scoring 16 points, including a perfect 4-4 from behind the three-point line, and Wilkins racking up six rebounds to go along with three blocks.
The game was closely contested from wire to wire, although Virginia controlled the lead from the ten-minute mark of the first half, they struggled to pull completely away. The Hoos fell to a quick 5-10 deficit, but quickly fought back with long jumpers from Hall and second year guard, Ty Jerome.
The Hoos would take the lead for good off an impressive sequence from redshirt sophomore, Mamadi Diakite. The forward caught a pass underneath the rim from Devon Hall and slammed it home to take a two-point lead. He then sprinted back on defense, grabbed a steal and threw another emphatic dunk down in transition to take a two possession lead.
Minutes later, right after a Carolina three, transfer point guard, Nigel Johnson, hit a contested three of his own to answer right back. He sprinted down the floor, grabbed a steal of his own, and joined the dunk party in transition. The Hoos would have eight dunks on the night, while Carolina would not get one.
North Carolina was bothered all night by Virginia’s defense. They were forced into three shot-clock violations and many bad shots late in the clock. Senior guard, Joel Berry II, was the high-scorer for the game with 17 points, but was held to 7-17 shooting and 3-8 from deep. Junior guard, Kenny Williams, was the only other Carolina player to reach double digit scoring with 11 points.
The Hoos got a big lift from redshirt freshman, De’Andre Hunter, who went chipped in with 10 points and seven rebounds. He also played lock-down defense, and most memorably, after snatching an offensive rebound, drove the lane and dropped a massive dunk over Joel Berry.
Berry’s afternoon would only get worse, when minutes later, he found himself the only one between Isaiah Wilkins and basket. Wilkins elevated, and put Berry on his second poster of the day.
Both offenses stalled at the end of the contest with Virginia’s last basket, a Ty Jerome three, coming with five mins to play. However, their defense dialed in to close out the game, and only allowed one free throw in the last seven minutes for North Carolina.
Good Defense > Good Offense:
The Hoos forced 19 Carolina turnovers, which lead to 25 points. By contrast, the Heels were held to only three points off Virginia turnovers and zero fast break points. Defense has always been the calling card of Tony Bennett coached teams, but this group seems to have bought into the system more so than many other classes. The defensive anchors of the squad, Devon Hall, Isaiah Wilkins, and Jack Salt, know their roles and the rest of the team has followed suit. Hall is in his fifth year in the system after redshirting his freshman year, Isaiah is in his fourth, with Salt and Mamadi Diakite in their third. The rotations are second nature to these guys, and opposing teams are feeling it. The Cavaliers shot only 45.3% from the field today, with that percentage inflated by the easy points on the break. But by crippling team’s ability to score, they more than make up for their streaky offensive performances.
Still Work to Be Done:
Although a commanding win, a closer look at the box score still shows many areas for improvement. UNC outrebounded Virginia 42-30, including a 19-10 advantage on the offensive glass. The defense recovered well and only allowed 12 second chance points, but they were also lucky to not have some open Carolina shots not drop. The Hoos also failed to get to the charity stripe, only taking nine shots from there all afternoon. Once there, they only converted on five of those shots. Although this contest was ultimately decided on the defensive end of the floor, paying attention to the little things and cleaning up areas like this are what makes teams championship caliber.
The Hoos play at home once again on Tuesday against the Syracuse Orange at 8:00pm