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Turnovers the difference as No. 18 North Carolina beats No. 11 Kentucky

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Saturday’s game against No. 11 Kentucky represented both a challenge and an opportunity for No. 18 North Carolina. Already in possession of wins over Louisville and Michigan State, a win over the Wildcats would give North Carolina victories over each of the three teams who sat atop the AP preseason poll. The challenge: keeping the young Wildcats off of the offensive boards and out of the paint.

North Carolina didn’t do a great job in the rebounding department, as Kentucky did manage to rebound 47.2% of their missed shots, and they also scored 34 points in the paint. But the Tar Heels made up for this by converting the Wildcats’ 17 turnovers into 22 points, and they outscored Kentucky by four in the paint on their way to the 82-77 victory in Chapel Hill.

While those losses to Belmont and UAB were disappointing, the fact of the matter is that North Carolina has a resume that no other team in the country can match at this time. And for all the discussion about what this team could be when (it’s probably better to use the word “if”) P.J. Hairston and Leslie McDonald are declared eligible, Roy Williams’ young bunch has shown signs recently that they’ll be OK with or without those two.

After a four-game stretch in which he shot 12-for-41 from the field junior forward James Michael McAdoo scored 14 points in a win over UNCG last Saturday, and he followed that performance up with a 20-point outing against Kentucky. He may have grabbed just five rebounds, and much of his scoring damage was done at the foul line (12-for-19), but McAdoo was more aggressive and North Carolina needs that from him on a consistent basis. McAdoo isn’t a “great” rebounder, and the Tar Heels will do much of their work in that area collectively anyway, but he can ill-afford to not be engaged in the action if this team is to be successful.

McAdoo wasn’t the only player to make strides on Saturday either. J.P. Tokoto scored 15 points on 7-for-10 shooting, making it three double-digit scoring efforts in the last four games. He may not be the greatest perimeter shooter (to be fair Tokoto did know down a couple on Saturday), but in order for Marcus Paige (23 points, 10-for-10 FT) to have the room he needs to operate on the perimeter another option has to emerge. Tokoto’s ability to get the basket can help North Carolina offensively, and that was certainly the case in the first half as he scored 11 of those 15 points.

Leading into Saturday’s game, much of the discussion regarding North Carolina centered around who they were without and what they can be when Hairston and McDonald return. In light of North Carolina’s win, it may be time to shift to discussing what this current group can become. And while it certainly didn’t look good earlier this season, the Tar Heels seem to be finding their way.

No. 5 Xavier stumbles at Creighton, lose 70-54

Creighton's Cole Huff (13) and Toby Hegner, left, guard Xavier's Jalen Reynolds (1) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in Omaha, Neb., Tuesday, Feb. 9, 2016. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik)
(AP Photo/Nati Harnik)
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Mo Watson went for a career-high 32 points, seven boards and five assists as Creighton jumped out to an early 21-4 lead and never looked back, beating No. 5 Xavier, 70-54, in Omaha on Tuesday night.

 

It was a massive win for the Bluejays, who still have an outside shot at earning an at-large bid this season. (We wrote all about that here.)

As well as Creighton played, the bigger story here may actually be Xavier, who lost for just the third time this season; they had been the only top ten team with just two losses to their name.

The issue for the Musketeers tonight was two-fold, but they both are a symptom of what could be an issue down the road for this team: Xavier doesn’t really have a true point guard.

They certainly didn’t have anyone to stop Watson. By the second half, they had essentially asked Reynolds, who was playing the middle of their 1-3-1 zone to matchup with Watson. It was weird but was actually somewhat effective.

The Musketeers also started out ice cold from the floor, missing 11 of their first 13 shots, and those misses led to leak outs from Bluejays, who got layups and open threes in transition to build that 17 point lead. Once Xavier got behind, it turned into scramble mode for Xavier. They forced shots early in the clock and didn’t start pounding the ball into the paint until it was too late. What they needed was someone to be able to settle things, to ensure that offensive would get initiated and sets would get executed when they were able to get the lead down to single digits.

That 1-for-19 shooting performance from beyond the arc certainly didn’t help matters, and neither did the fact that they got just nine field goals all game from players not named James Farr or Jalen Reynolds. The most frustrating part for head coach Chris Mack? They had good shots. It wasn’t like Creighton took away everything that Xavier wanted to do.

The kids just had one of those nights where nothing went down.

Those happen.

And when you combine them with a total inability to contain the opposing team’s point guard, what you get is a 16 point loss on the road against a team that was desperate to get a good win.

Gill’s 16, ‘D’ lead No. 7 Virginia past Virginia Tech, 67-49

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AP Photo/Andrew Shurtleff
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CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (AP) Anthony Gill scored 16 points and No. 7 Virginia turned the tables on state rival Virginia Tech with a 67-49 victory Tuesday night, the Cavaliers’ seventh straight.

Isaiah Wilkins added a career-best 14 points and Malcolm Brogdon had 12 for the Cavaliers (20-4, 9-3 Atlantic Coast Conference). Virginia avenged a 70-68 loss to the Hokies in Blacksburg on Jan. 4 in what rates as their worst performance of the season, and extended their winning streak at John Paul Jones Arena to 17 games.

Freshman Justin Robinson scored 16 points and classmate Chris Clarke had 11 in his first action for the Hokies (13-12, 5-7) since breaking his right foot in late December. Virginia Tech’s top two scorers, Zach LeDay (16.0 ppg) and Seth Allen (14.5), were limited to seven and six points, respectively, in part because of foul trouble.

Virginia coach Tony Bennett said his team wasn’t ready to play when it lost to the Hokies earlier, but they have been surging of late and were focused from the outset. They were credited with assists and 14 of their first 15 baskets and forced 10 turnovers in the first half; they forced just eight in the last meeting of the teams.

For most of the game, the Hokies had more turnovers than field goals.

The Cavaliers led 32-20 at halftime and extended their advantage to 47-29 on a three-point play by Mike Tobey with 12:11 remaining. It capped an 11-4 run for Virginia, during which LeDay was whistled for his fourth foul. On Virginia’s next trip down court, it got the ball to Gill inside and LeDay basically backed off and let him score, quickly earning a spot on the bench.

The Cavaliers’ lead never dipped into single digits again.

The Hokies had just eight turnovers and outscored Virginia 26-6 off turnovers in their first meeting. This time, Virginia Tech had 10 turnovers by halftime and the Cavaliers had already turned them into 15 points. Virginia Tech finished with 16 field goals and 15 turnovers.

Already leading 9-6, Virginia got scoring from eight players in a 23-8 run that spanned about 8 1/2 minutes.

Gill started it with a dunk, Brogdon hit a 3-pointer, London Perrantes had a four-point play and Wilkins finished it with two free throws, giving the Cavaliers a 32-14 lead with 2:06 left in the half. They didn’t score again, and the Hokies closed within 32-20 by halftime.

TIP-INS

Virginia Tech: The Hokies shot 57.1 percent (15 of 26) from the field in the second half of their 70-68 victory against Virginia on Jan. 4. … Virginia Tech’s starting five totaled four points in the first half.

Virginia: The Cavaliers have held four consecutive opponents to 50 points or fewer.

UP NEXT

Virginia Tech plays at No. 12 Miami next Wednesday.

Virginia plays at Duke on Saturday.

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The AP’s college basketball page: http://www.collegebasketball.ap.org