North Carolina 81, Virginia 67
Riding high after resurrecting their season with two important ACC wins, the Virginia Cavaliers were knocked back to earth with an 81-67 loss tonight at North Carolina.
Virginia (14-8, 5-5 ACC) trailed by 19 in the first half before rallying to tie the game at 47 with 13 minutes 14 seconds remaining. But the Tar Heels surged soon thereafter, turning a slender 54-52 lead into a commanding 65-52 margin that provided their first win in five tries against the Cavaliers.
The Cavaliers fell behind 34-15 before an effective zone defense helped bring them within nine at halftime. Less than seven minutes into the second half, the Tar Heels (13-10, 4-6) allowed the lead to slip away completely when Virginia guard Todd Billet (16 points) tied the score with a baseline flip in transition.
After Jawad Williams, one of four Tar Heels who scored in double figures, missed on the other end of the court, Billet came back down on the break with a chance to give the Cavaliers their first lead of the game. He had teammate Derrick Byars open for a moment underneath the basket, but the pass glanced off Byars's hand and out of bounds. Raymond Felton hit a three-pointer on the next possession, pushing North Carolina back in front for good.
"Virginia's a good ballclub," said UNC Coach Matt Doherty, whose team got 21 points apiece from Felton and fellow freshman guard Rashad McCants. "They're going to make a run. They did. I thought our players really responded."
Virginia struggled when the Tar Heels applied full-court pressure and finished with 21 turnovers, including 10 by Billet and fellow point guard Majestic Mapp.
"Our turnovers, I thought, beat us," Cavaliers Coach Pete Gillen said. "Twenty-one turnovers -- you can't win that way."
Virginia power forward Travis Watson, who wore an orange headband to protect eight stitches in his left eyelid, had 13 points and 15 rebounds as the only Virginia big man to play more than 12 minutes.
"We had some big guys in there and [North Carolina's] quickness was better than our size," Gillen said. "We couldn't play our big guys because they were too quick."
The Cavaliers could scarcely have played worse in the opening five minutes. They committed six turnovers, including ones on each of their first four possessions, and did not score until Billet capped their ninth possession with two free throws.
Defensively Virginia was just as bad, allowing the Tar Heels to run their offense with little resistance. The Cavaliers could not stay with Carolina's athletic perimeter players in man-to-man defense. It didn't help that Virginia's Jason Clark, the 6-8 forward who slowed Wake Forest's Josh Howard and North Carolina State's Julius Hodge in recent weeks, played only eight minutes in the first half because his defensive skills could not offset his three quick turnovers.
Virginia fell behind 10-0, prompting Gillen to call two timeouts in the first three minutes. The margin quickly swelled to 18-4, then 23-6 before peaking at 34-15 when Jackie Manuel (12 points, career high nine rebounds) hit 1 of 2 free throws with 5 minutes 17 seconds left in the half.
"Some guys were ready, but some weren't," Gillen said. "A couple of guys were in a bit of a fog."
Cavaliers Notes: North Carolina shot 50.8 percent, its first game above 50 since a season-opening win against Penn State. . . . Virginia, which dropped to 5-58 at North Carolina and 2-7 in road games this season, had won four straight against the Tar Heels, its longest streak in the series since winning five in a row from 1917-20. . . . Watson upped his career rebounding total to 1,020, moving him past UNC's Mitch Kupchak into 22nd place on the all-time ACC list. Another Tar Heel, 1998 national player of the year Antawn Jamison, is 21st with 1,027. In Virginia's record books, Watson is 19th in points, second in rebounds and fourth in blocks.