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Virginia falls to North Carolina in ACC semis, 71-67

Brogdon scores 22 second-half points, but Tar Heels hold on

<p>Junior guard Malcolm Brogdon scored a career-high 25 points in the loss, with 22 coming after halftime. </p>

Junior guard Malcolm Brogdon scored a career-high 25 points in the loss, with 22 coming after halftime.

The No. 3 Virginia men’s basketball team’s quest for a second straight ACC Tournament title came to an end Friday evening in a 71-67 loss against No. 19 North Carolina in Greensboro. The loss was the second in three games for the Cavaliers, who claimed their second consecutive ACC regular-season title earlier this month.

Virginia (29-3, 16-2 ACC) started slow and struggled to find a rhythm in the first half. The Cavaliers fell behind 7-1 by the first media timeout and would trail wire-to-wire. The Tar Heels (24-10, 11-7 ACC) led by as many as 11 in the opening period and held a 30-23 edge at the half after Virginia went on a 4-0 run in the last minute.

“We were definitely out of sync,” senior forward Darion Atkins said. “I think we unraveled defensively and offensively. We didn't know what shots to get, we were careless with the basketball, they were great defensively and we have to learn from it. It's very tough.”

North Carolina shot 52.4 percent from the field in the first half against the nation's top-ranked scoring defense. After the break, the Tar Heels fared even better, making 12 of 21 shots. Their shooting percentage for the game of 54.8 percent was the best against Virginia since Nov. 22, 2010 — a span of 163 games.

“Credit to them, they hit a lot of shots,” junior forward Evan Nolte said. “We didn't play the type of defense that we've been playing or that we've been taught to play the whole year. That part's frustrating but they came to play and they outplayed us, simple as that.”

In the second half, each time Virginia began to gain momentum, the Tar Heels answered swiftly to reignite a partisan North Carolina crowd. They led by double digits for much of the second half before a last-ditch comeback attempt led by junior guard Malcolm Brogdon made things interesting.

The Cavaliers trailed by 13 points with under nine minutes remaining, but were able to make a game of it late. Virginia went on a 14-5 run in just over three minutes to pull within one point with 2:52 remaining. Brogdon was responsible for 10 consecutive points during the run as he made three lay-ups and a pair of 3-pointers.

“He really kept us in the game,” junior forward Anthony Gill said. “They didn't have an answer for him. Unfortunately, we didn't have an answer for anything they were doing.”

Brogdon's 22 second-half points were not enough and a one-point deficit would be the closest Virginia ever achieved. After a driving lay-up by Brogdon cut the North Carolina lead to 63-62, North Carolina junior guard Marcus Paige hit a contested floater in the lane as the shot clock expired to push the lead back up to three with 44 seconds remaining.

At the other end, Virginia junior guard Justin Anderson missed a 3-point attempt and sophomore forward Kennedy Meeks corralled the rebound and later was fouled by Brogdon to stop the clock. He missed the front end of his one-and-one and the Cavaliers got the rebound. However, by this time Brogdon missed a potential game-tying 3-point attempt.

“[Brogdon] had hit a couple threes, and I thought he had rhythm,” coach Tony Bennett said of the shot. “He got a pretty good look, and he had made a few, so I was okay with that.”

North Carolina made all six of its free throws in the final 15 seconds to oust Virginia and become the third team to top the 70-point mark against the Cavaliers.

“Defensively for us to win a game like this, we had to have a much stronger, more sound, solid effort, and we just didn't,” Bennett said. “So that kind of stings, but we'll grow from it. This is one and done and the next one is one and done, so you've got to try to get it right.”

Virginia struggled to find effective adjustments after North Carolina took control early. When the Cavaliers started to pack the paint and pressure the Tar Heel post players, North Carolina got hot from outside and drilled 3-pointers. UNC was 5-of-9 from deep in the opening period and 7-for-14 overall.

Nobody did more damage than freshman forward Justin Jackson. He entered the game shooting just 26 percent on 3-pointers but proceeded to put in four of his five attempts, finishing the night with a team-high 22 points.

“I always knew I was a shooter,” Jackson said. “Obviously, the numbers didn’t show it. But for me, I knew it would come around sooner or later. I’m just glad I was able to contribute to this game and be able to move on.”

Following their second loss in a week, the Cavaliers will look to work out the kinks before returning to action in the NCAA Tournament.

“We definitely can regroup but we really just got to reevaluate ourselves and just sit down as a team and really just get back to doing what we do best, which is play defense,” junior forward Mike Tobey said. “I think in the first half we didn't necessarily do that...for the most part we just didn't play the way we should be playing. We really got to not reinvent ourselves but just get back to what we're doing.”

As for the Cavaliers' case for a No. 1 seed in the bracket, Virginia players had no interest in lobbying.

“That's up to the committee,” Brogdon said. “I think we've played really good ball and been successful this season.”