CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — Virginia players emerged from their locker room Saturday night with a glassy-eyed look of resignation that has become an increasingly familiar sight the past few weeks for the Cavaliers.
The wrong kind of milestones have been piling up for No. 14 Virginia recently, with a new handful accompanying Saturday’s 65-41 loss to No. 10 North Carolina. It was the Cavaliers’ worst loss since a 35-point rout at the hands of Tennessee in 2013. It extended Virginia’s losing streak to three — their longest since 2011 — and was their fifth loss in seven games. It also marked the fewest points allowed by a Roy Williams-coached team at North Carolina. In fact, Virginia’s point total is the lowest posted by an ACC team this season.
Players immediately seemed to compartmentalize the pain, quickly referring to it simply as “one of those games.”
“I don’t think since I’ve been here I’ve been on the end of a game like this,” Virginia junior forward Isaiah Wilkins said.
“I’ve been on both sides of those games,” Cavaliers Coach Tony Bennett said, “and we’ll learn from it and step up. There’s a reason they’re 11-3 [in the ACC]. It was jumping early. This was the most alive I’ve felt this place or seen this place since I’ve been here. We answered the first few minutes, but they separated quick. Like I said, it was tough.”
The Cavaliers’ implosion in a packed Dean E. Smith Center — former Tar Heels Brice Johnson and Marcus Paige were at the game to have their jerseys retired in a halftime ceremony — started with their own shooting.
Virginia (18-8, 8-6 ACC) shot 27.8 percent from the field and made just 2 of 20 three-pointers despite entering the night with the second-best field goal percentage and three-point field goal percentage in the ACC. Junior guard Marial Shayok led Virginia with 13 points, and senior point guard London Perrantes had 12 points on 3-for-10 shooting.
“I have the utmost respect for Tony Bennett and his club,” Williams said afterward, “and I have never seen his team miss that many shots.”
No. 10 North Carolina (23-5, 11-3) flexed its muscle, with junior Justin Jackson leading the way with 20 points — 18 of which came in the first half — including four three-pointers. The Tar Heels got 13 points from Kennedy Meeks and 10 from Isaiah Hicks.
The game was a far cry from the last time Johnson and Paige were on court against Virginia, when the Tar Heels outlasted the Cavaliers, 61-57, in the ACC title game last March.
Williams put in his substitutes with two minutes left to play. Bennett looked on, frozen on the sidelines with his hands on his hips.
Down 12 points at intermission, by far Virginia’s biggest halftime deficit of the season, the Cavaliers were sapped of energy by the second half. They scored five points in the first four minutes before entering another extended scoring drought while the Tar Heels built upon their first-half margin.
Perrantes never found his shooting touch — a particularly wayward three-point attempt prompted an exaggerated head roll in frustration from Bennett and ended in an emphatic dunk from Hicks on the other end to push the Tar Heels’ lead to 17 with 13:25 to play.
The first half hadn’t been much better for Virginia. The Cavaliers doubled the post as much as they could to start, throwing the Tar Heels’ big men off and holding North Carolina to 3-for-10 shooting from the field as Virginia led 8-6 with more than 12 minutes left in the half. It was the Cavaliers’ last lead of the game. The Tar Heels missed just seven field goals for the rest of the half, while Virginia shot just 8 for 24 from the field before halftime.
Bennett, with the restraint and poise he reserves for particularly bad losses, tried to put the game in perspective.
“You got a choice when you get smacked in the face like that,” he said. “You can either lay down or get back up and try to fight.”