Charlottesville — The Tar Heels are used to moving fast. They came into John Paul Jones arena as an unsurprising No. 1 in the nation in adjusted tempo. Virginia, on the other hand, was 343rd in the same stat. It was a classic unstoppable force vs. immovable object kind of game. The game ended up in the realm of 61 possessions for both teams, and that made it Virginia’s type of game. One of the NBA scouts in attendance — I’ll call him Jim Cardaway — seemed visibly annoyed with the frequent stagnation of the UNC offense.
When the final buzzer sounded, the Cavaliers held sway, winning 61-52 to take their ACC opener. The score represented Carolina’s season low on offense.
Most young teams make mistakes when they start moving too fast. For the UNC Tar Heels, the reverse almost seems to be true. Give a Heel time to think about what he’s doing on offense these days, and he’s likely to travel, hesitate a moment too long and let the lane close or miss his wide-open pivot man.
“In a physical game, it’s hard to get out and run as much,” said UVA head coach Tony Bennett. “But we tried to be vigilant and make them play against the set defense.”
Both teams were bolstered by the return of valued players. Reggie Bullock made a flashy comeback for the Heels, scoring 22 points on 7-9 shooting. UVA’s returnee was quieter, but no less important. Jontel Evans, back after sitting the last nine games for the Cavaliers, tallied just eight points, but his presence meant a lot to his team.
“It helped a lot,” said UVA head coach Tony Bennett. “He’s not where he needs to be defensively, but as an older guy he was able to body Paige a few times.”
Virginia’s offensive spark came from 6’5″ swingman Joe Harris, who was the only Cavalier in double figures. He dropped 19 points on 7-11 shooting, including 2-4 from deep.
UNC’s freshman point guard Marcus Paige admitted after the game that UVA’s persistent, jarring screens threw the Tar Heels off their rhythm. Paige’s clear-headed analysis of his team’s flaws was echoed by his head coach, who assessed the game in terms only Roy Williams can, or will, use:
“Just silliness,” said a disgusted Williams in the post-game press conference. “You can’t say you’re young any more. It was a breakdown on both ends of the court. ACC basketball on the road and all that are great excuses, but we just didn’t frickin’ play.”
Eric Angevine is the editor of Storming the Floor. He tweets @stfhoops.