Saturday, it was all a matter of pace.
Despite allowing Virginia to shoot nearly 59 percent from the floor, including 12-of-21 from three-point range, P.J. Hairston and North Carolina’s up-tempo offense were too much for the Cavaliers in a 93-81 victory at the Smith Center in Chapel Hill, N.C.
Hairston scored 29 points, which included 6-of-12 shooting from three-point range, as North Carolina’s most lethal offensive weapon.
Where the Tar Heels had trouble defending Virginia guard Joe Harris and his 27 points, North Carolina dominated on the glass to finish +11 in rebounding margin and +7 on turnovers
Converting those turnovers into points was the key Saturday, along with staying out of foul trouble and keeping Virginia off of the free throw line.
The win moves North Carolina to 7-5 in the conference and keeps the Tar Heels from falling into a crowded pack of teams around the .500 mark in the ACC.
That puts more pressure on NC State, who has a very winnable game against Virginia Tech Saturday. Coach Mark Gottfried’s team is favored by 15 points and a win would pull them even with UNC in the ACC race.
It also helps North Carolina in the NCAA tournament bubble conversation. The Tar Heels could not afford to lose a game like this at home and now can chalk up Virginia as one of its best wins of the season. The only other that would likely compete is UNLV in non-conference play, though the Rebels are working through a difficult Mountain West schedule right now.
Looking forward on the schedule, North Carolina would be helped mightily if it avoid a letdown against Georgia Tech, Florida State, Clemson, andMaryland, as well as get at least one win over NC State or No. 2 Duke. A win at home over Duke would give the Tar Heels a signature win that could round out an NCAA tournament resume.