CHARLOTTESVILLE — Since the preseason, Virginia sophomore Justin Anderson explained, Coach Tony Bennett often has reminded his team just how important offensive balance can be with a simple saying: “The best thing about this group is it’s always going to be someone’s night.”
Anderson and company have taken the words to heart in recent weeks, and the end result Monday was another night in which the Cavaliers cruised past a conference rival.
With contributions across the board, Virginia continued its fastest start in ACC play since 1994-95 with a 76-61 win over North Carolina at John Paul Jones Arena.
With the win, the Cavaliers are 14-5 overall, 5-1 in the ACC.
Leading scorer Joe Harris paced the Cavaliers with 16 points, although he went more than 34 minutes between field goals.
But his teammates only seemed all the more relentless; they were not challenged in the second half as the lead expanded to 23 points in the latter stages.
Sophomore Malcolm Brogdon led the charge with 16 points and six rebounds and delivered the finishing touches with a three-pointer after North Carolina cut its deficit to 13 late in the second half.
Anderson chipped in 13 points and point guard London Perrantes had eight points and a career-high nine assists while holding Tar Heels leading scorer Marcus Paige to nine points on 4-for-14 shooting.
Forward Akil Mitchell grabbed a game-high 11 rebounds and forward Anthony Gill added eight points and eight rebounds off the bench.
“This was a game where I could go down the list and say each guy gave us a great lift in what they did,” Bennett said.
The Cavaliers entered Monday night ranked fourth in the ACC in scoring during conference play and averaging more points per game (66.5) than they have under Bennett. And yet they are the only team in the ACC without a player ranked among the top 20 in scoring.
Harris ensured Virginia got off to another quick start against the Tar Heels (11-7, 1-4), an erratic bunch that has countered impressive nonconference victories with puzzling losses.
The senior began the evening with a three-point binge, hitting his first three shots from beyond the arc in just more than three minutes. Harris didn’t hit another field goal until 2 minutes 28 seconds remained in the game. Virginia shot 48.1 percent from the floor for the game.
“Joe takes all the attention and makes it way easier for everybody. It’s easier for our offense to flow because he attracts so much attention,” Brogdon said.
But Bennett said he came away displeased with the first-half performance, even though his team led 38-29 at halftime. North Carolina “seduced us into a little faster game than we needed,” the coach said, and asserted itself inside behind big men Kennedy Meeks (15 points, nine rebounds) and James Michael McAdoo (11 points). The Tar Heels, the ACC’s worst three-point shooting team, scored 20 of their first 29 points in the paint and grabbed 17 offensive rebounds.
But Virginia took control of the game after a 12-2 surge to end the first half, capped off by a Perrantes three-pointer with 29 seconds to go. The freshman from Santa Monica, Calif., whom Mitchell called “the heart of our team right now,” also dished out eight of his assists in the first 20 minutes.
“He’s showing what a lot of people out west maybe missed on,” Bennett said of Perrantes.