In a match-up that was certain to draw eyeballs from across the country, it was the No. 9 ranked Virginia men’s basketball team that emerged victorious against North Carolina Saturday night. The Cavaliers (15-3, 11-1 ACC) took down the Tar Heels (12-7, 7-5 ACC) in emphatic fashion by a score of 60-48.
“We took solid care of the basketball with only six turnovers,” Coach Tony Bennett said. “You can see how big and physical Carolina is and they got a few offensive rebounds, but we tried to be attentive to really trying to block out and do the things that we thought were so important in this.”
Historically, the two teams have had a storied rivalry in which North Carolina leads the all time record, 131-60. The contentious rivalry is in no small part due to the battle between the highly respected basketball minds at the helm of each program, Bennett and North Carolina’s Coach Roy Williams.
Despite the Tar Heels leading the all-time series, the Cavaliers have won nine of the last 10 regular season meetings including a two-game sweep last season. Last time around, senior guard Tomas Woldetensae drilled a three-pointer right before the buzzer to lift Virginia to a 64-62 victory.
Starters for Virginia in Saturday’s game included junior guard Kihei Clark, freshman guard Reece Beekman, junior guard Trey Murphy and senior forwards Sam Hauser and Jay Huff. The first bucket of the match-up did not come until nearly three minutes after tip-off when freshman guard Caleb Love scored for the Tar Heels.
The Cavaliers responded with a massive 13-0 run that included three-pointers from Huff, Hauser and Murphy. After Virginia opened up the 11-point lead, the team followed it up with another 8-0 run with just a single North Carolina two-pointer separating the pair of Cavalier runs.
Contributors to the 8-0 run included Huff — who had five points during the stretch — and Woldetensae — who connected on a three-pointer as the first half approached the midway point. Trailing 21-4, senior forward Garrison Brooks aimed to end the Tar Heel drought with a quick two-pointer followed up with a single free throw.
Heading into a media timeout with 7:41 remaining in the first frame, North Carolina was shooting three-of-18 from the floor and had missed all seven of its three-point attempts. On the other hand, Virginia was holding at an efficient eight-of-15 in field goals and five-of-10 from downtown.
In the next four minutes, the Tar Heels managed to close the gap as sophomore forward and center Armando Bacot scored twice, bringing the score to 22-15. In spite of this, a three-pointer drained by Hauser off of a feed from Clark stymied the North Carolina effort.
The two squads went back and forth down the remaining stretch of the first half, eventually heading into the locker room with the scoreboard reading 27-18 in Virginia’s favor. Although the Tar Heels shot an abysmal eight-of-32 from the floor, including zero-of-9 from beyond the arc, the team’s ability to out-rebound the Cavaliers 24 to 19 helped keep them in the mix.
The second half brought about more of the same, as Virginia continued to suffocate North Carolina with its defense and remained dynamic on the offensive end. Coming out of the first timeout of the second frame, Virginia nursed a solid 34-23 lead.
“A lot of it was just our transition defense, that's something we worked on a lot in practice, and that's kind of their thing and they do a really good job of it,” Huff said. “We always have to prepare a little extra for a team like that.”
Freshman forward and center Walker Kessler attempted to keep the Tar Heels in the game with seven quick points following the timeout. However, it was apparent that his efforts were not going to be enough.
With the Cavaliers still ahead 43-33 approaching just 10 minutes to play, Virginia began to build on its lead to go up 48-35 in a run that was capped off with a slam dunk from sophomore guard Casey Morsell.
From there, the Cavaliers continued to pour it on, leading by as many as 16 points following a contested jumper from Huff. Virginia closed out the game to clinch the victory 60-48.
“I felt like I played good, offense and defense, staying in front of my man, helping with the post traps and all that,” Beekman said. “On offense just getting into the paint making plays. I know I'm surrounded by all great players that can make plays so I know I'm getting an assist but they're making a shot.”
Beekman led the team in assists with seven and also had eight boards. In terms of scoring, the Cavaliers were led by Huff, who posted 18 points and 12 rebounds, as well as Hauser, who registered an impressive 17 points.
“That's always the goal, just to make that opponent earn a quality shot like it's got to be contested and the majority of them were,” Bennett said. “Now we'll have a great opportunity to test it against obviously an excellent team on Monday night.”
Next up, Virginia will face the No. 17 ranked Florida State Seminoles Monday. Tip-off is slated for 7 p.m. and the game will be broadcasted live on ESPN.