With two three-pointers and eight points in the first two-and-a-half minutes of play, the No. 12 North Carolina men’s basketball team seemed poised to upset a red-hot No. 8 Virginia at John Paul Jones Arena Saturday afternoon. However, Virginia sophomore forward Mamadi Diakite had something different in mind.
In what turned out to be the 14 most crucial seconds of the game, the Conarky, Guinea native dunked the ball after a beautiful series of passes, stole the ball from the Tar Heels and slammed the ball down again to give the Cavaliers a 17-13 lead.
From there on, Virginia (14-1, 3-0 ACC) never looked back, soundly beating ACC rival North Carolina, (12-4, 1-2 ACC) 61-49 and extending their win streak to six games.
Coming off a tough loss against Florida State, North Carolina posed a legitimate threat to Virginia. After all, the Tar Heels haven’t lost two consecutive games since two seasons ago.
Yet, Virginia did what it does best — play sound defense.
In the first half, Virginia scored 15 points off of 10 North Carolina turnovers. Similar to Diakite, graduate guards Nigel Johnson and senior guard Devon Hall — who led the Cavaliers with 16 points — both had major score-steal-dunk combinations that fired up a raucous Cavalier faithful. This sound defense gave the Cavaliers a 35-28 lead at intermission.
However, Virginia did not let up in the second half. With consistent hustle from the whole team, the Cavaliers suffocated the Tar Heel offense — which only scored 10 points in the final 12 minutes of play. Despite 17 points from North Carolina senior guard Joel Berry II, the Cavaliers did not allow their opposition easy buckets, as they held the Tar Heels to 29.6 percent from the field and their second-lowest scoring total on the season en route to victory.
Following its most impressive win of the season, Virginia will return to JPJ Tuesday night to face the Syracuse Orange — a team that has gotten the better of the Cavaliers in their past two matchups. Tipoff is scheduled for 8 p.m.