Malcolm Brogdon’s 21st shot of the ACC tournament final was a desperate three-pointer that cut Virginia’s deficit to six points against North Carolina in the closing minutes. The newly minted conference player of the year added one more field goal attempt for a career-high 22 against the Tar Heels, but it wasn’t enough.
An eight-minute scoring drought in the second half doomed No. 4 Virginia in a 61-57 loss to North Carolina. Virginia’s Evan Nolte and Anthony Gill also connected from beyond the arc in the late stages, cutting the margin to two with four seconds to go. But North Carolina’s Joel Berry II, the tournament MVP, made a pair of free throws to seal the outcome.
Coaches Roy Williams and Tony Bennett shook hands at midcourt. Streamers fell from the Verizon Center rafters and both teams pivoted to Sunday’s selection show to await their seeding for next week’s NCAA tournament.
“It was a heck of an atmosphere,” Bennett said of a packed crowd clad in either Carolina blue or Virginia’s vibrant orange. “Our guys didn’t die. They kept hanging in there, gave ourselves chances — obviously we didn’t shoot it well.
“Two teams playing their hearts out. Carolina deserved it.”
The fatal flaw for Virginia (26-7) was abysmal second-half shooting. The Cavaliers made just 11 of 33 field goals in the final 20 minutes.
“They upped their defensive pressure,” said Brogdon, who shot 6 of 22 from the field. “We missed a lot of shots tonight we normally hit. Maybe it was because of their defense, but it could also just be totally us. I know I missed a lot of shots. London [Perrantes] missed a few he normally hits. It was just a rough night shooting.”
Marcus Paige was limited to 13 points for North Carolina. Brogdon’s 15 came after he scored 26 against North Carolina the last time the teams met — a 79-74 Virginia home win on Feb. 27. Gill had 13.
“We’re ecstatic about surviving here. Playing Virginia, we knew it was going to be a battle all the way down to the end,” Williams said. “I was even dumb enough to tell them about [Muhammad] Ali and [Joe] Frazier when I was a college student going to see that, how they fought and fought and fought, and we thought it would be that kind of game because we have the greatest respect for Virginia’s program.”
The ACC’s top two teams — the Heels were the tournament’s top seed, Virginia No. 2 — traded punches throughout the second half until Berry tied the game at 44 from the foul line with less than nine minutes to go. The Cavaliers had two chances to retake the lead on their next possession but couldn’t convert and so began the Tar Heels’ 11-2 run over the next five minutes that turned the game.
No. 7 North Carolina (28-6) finished the night shooting 51.1 percent from the field. Virginia shot 36.5 percent.
“Your confidence doesn’t really waiver,” Brogdon said. “You just have to keep shooting, even on tough shooting nights. You have to believe the next shot is going in. That’s all that’s really going through your mind.”
Berry led three Tar Heels players in double figures with 19 points. Brice Johnson had 12 points and nine rebounds.
“These guys right here, they played their tails off today,” Williams said. “The most impressive thing for me was we didn’t have a single turnover in the last 17 minutes and 53 seconds. We did a nice job of getting the shots we wanted. Against their defense, that’s pretty good.”
Bennett knew the game took plenty out of his team. But he sensed there could be something to be gained from the loss.
“You catch us five, 10 minutes after the game when these guys laid it on the line and you’re disappointed,” the Cavaliers coach said. “We’ll learn from that and get ourselves ready, find out who we play and prepare the right way. Hopefully, we grow from this.”