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Cavaliers stomp hapless Heels 76-61

Late first-half surge, balanced play key fifth conference win

North Carolina kept the game close for the opening 15 minutes, but the Virginia men’s basketball team ended the first half on a 12-2 run and never looked back. The Cavaliers dominated the second half en route to a 76-61 win and are off to their best ACC start since the 1994-95 season.

Virginia (14-5, 5-1 ACC) now sits second in ACC play behind undefeated No. 2 Syracuse (18-0, 5-0 ACC), while the Tar Heels (12-7, 1-4 ACC) have fallen into a four-way tie for last place. All five of Virginia’s conference wins have come by double digits.

Freshman guard London Perrantes catalyzed Virginia’s offense early, dishing out eight of his career-best nine assists in the first half. Perrantes, whose previous career high was six assists, also recorded eight points, including a 3-pointer to end the first half with a nine-point lead.

“Going into halftime, it was a one-point game and they scored off of both turnovers there,” North Carolina coach Roy Williams said. “London Perrantes made that big three before the half and it was a dagger.”

Though Virginia has made a habit of coming out fast in ACC games, North Carolina took an early lead. Senior guard Joe Harris singlehandedly kept the Cavaliers in the game, scoring the team’s first nine points on a perfect 3-of-3 from long distance. Harris finished with 16 points, tying redshirt sophomore guard Malcolm Brogdon for the game’s high.

“We wanted to make them run the floor and move more,” sophomore guard Justin Anderson said. “They’re really good when they can pack it in and use their length. We wanted to look for the open guys. Joe got really hot from the start and that was a beautiful thing to see. He got us started off on the right foot and it was a great collective win.”

Virginia shot a stellar 51.9 percent from the field in the first half, including 45.5 percent from 3-point range, but the Tar Heels managed to stay in the game by grabbing nine offensive boards and exploiting Virginia’s post trap for easy dunks and layups.

“I didn’t think we came out and played Virginia basketball in the first half,” Brogdon said. “In the second half coach [Tony] Bennett made adjustments and told us to slow down and play our game, and I think we did. We got stops and limited their second chance opportunities and we started playing Virginia basketball.”

Sophomore center Mike Tobey, who played just six minutes in the first half after picking up two early fouls, paced Virginia to a double-digit lead to open the second half. The seven-footer scored all six of his points in the first 2:16 of the period — along with a Brogdon 3-pointer and a Harris free throw — to take a 15-point lead.

North Carolina would not get closer than 12 points the rest of the way. Virginia amassed a 23-point lead with 2:13 left to play, prompting Bennett to empty his bench with less than a minute to play. All 15 Virginia players saw the court Monday night.

The Cavaliers spread the ball evenly among the offense, with Harris, one of the team’s leading scorers, going more than 34 minutes between field goals. Anderson, who scored four points on 1-for-5 in the first half, finished the game with 13 points.

“It’s good to beat any team that good,” senior forward Akil Mitchell said. “When Justin [Anderson] is out on the floor and playing great, we turn into a different team.”

Freshman forward Kennedy Meeks led the Tar Heels with 15 points and nine rebounds — including four offensive boards — while senior guard Leslie McDonald and junior forward James Michael McAdoo also scored in double figures with 10 and 11 points, respectively.

However, North Carolina could not keep up with Virginia’s hot shooting pace throughout the game, shooting 41.3 percent from the field and 26.7 percent from 3-point range to the Cavaliers’ 48.1 and 40.0 percent, respectively.

The Cavaliers were outrebounded for the second straight game, 39-38, but Mitchell continued to dominate the paint. The senior led the team in rebounding for the seventh straight game with 11 rebounds, including seven in the second half.

Though Mitchell’s scoring average has fallen from 13.1 points per game last season to 6.7, he has ramped up his post play recently after a slow start to the season, averaging a career-best 9.3 rebounds per game in ACC play. While some of Mitchell’s offensive production drop-off is due to playing 24.5 minutes per game compared to 30.5 last year, much of it also comes from his new role on one of the conference’s deepest teams.

“We keep telling him to get on the glass, take what the defense gives you, and get the ‘X-Factor’ baskets and plays,” Bennett said. “That’s when he is at his best. Manufacturing offense is not his strength. He made a nice play, and I have been proud of how he has fallen into his role to help us and help himself. I like where he is going.”

For Mitchell, one of four Cavaliers who hail from the state of North Carolina, the win against the Tar Heels during his senior season was particularly meaningful.

“It’s definitely nice,” Mitchell said. “My old AAU coach was a big Carolina fan and I always had friends on the team and guys I played with. To be able to play them is a dream come true and to beat them is really special.”

The Cavaliers conclude their three-game homestand Saturday against Virginia Tech at 3 p.m.