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Cavaliers fall short to North Carolina, 93-81

Despite junior guard Joe Harris’ second consecutive enthralling offensive performance, Virginia yielded season-highs in points and 3-pointers made in a fast-paced 93-81 loss to North Carolina in Chapel Hill Saturday afternoon.

Harris scored a career-high 27 points for the Cavaliers (19-7, 8-4 ACC), including 20 on 7-of-9 shooting in the second half, while leading his team to a conference-season high 58.5 percent from the field. Unfortunately, coach Tony Bennett’s customarily stingy squad coupled that sizzling offensive showcase with one of its worst defensive outings in the coach’s four seasons at the helm, allowing the most points to an opponent since surrendering 106 to Washington in 2010.

Led by sophomore guard P.J. Hairston’s career-high 29 points and six 3-pointers, the Tar Heels (17-8, 7-5 ACC) had four players reach double-figures, shot 13-of-28 from beyond the arc and outrebounded Virginia 32-21. Virginia is now just 3-6 away from John Paul Jones Arena this season.

The Cavaliers raced out of the gates, sinking 11 of their first 13 shots and six of their first seven 3-pointers to accumulate a 29-19 lead at the 9:11 mark of the first half. Successfully smothering North Carolina leading scorer sophomore forward James Michael McAdoo with aggressive low-post traps, Virginia also benefited from sophomore guard Paul Jesperson’s nine early points on three 3-pointers made.

Eventually, however, turnovers and North Carolina’s substantial size advantage thwarted the Cavaliers’ scintillating start. The Tar Heels registered five offensive boards in the first half and compiled a half-ending 21-11 run to knot the score at 40 heading into the break. Only senior point guard Jontel Evans’ desperate, running half-court heave at the buzzer kept Virginia tied at half.

After the break, North Carolina quickly seized control of the game, compelling the Cavaliers to abandon their glacial pace for a high-octane, back-and-forth offensive onslaught. Although an eye-popping 11-point outburst from Harris helped Virginia pull as close as 58-53 with 13:19 remaining, equally impressive shooting from Hairston and freshman guard Marcus Paige helped the Tar Heels rampage to an 83-65 lead with less than six minutes to go. Harris then keyed a 9-0 run to make things interesting, but sound free throw shooting down the stretch by North Carolina nullified the Cavaliers’ uncharacteristically high scoring total.

While helping to defend McAdoo, junior forward Akil Mitchell also scored nine points and totaled nine rebounds to complement Harris. Evans scored a season-high 12 points but committed six of Virginia’s costly 14 turnovers, matching his career-high.

McAdoo was held to nine points, while Paige racked up 17 for North Carolina.

The Cavaliers next visit ACC-leading No. 3 Miami Tuesday.

—compiled by Fritz Metzinger