Tar Heels lose, again

Jan. 20, 2014 @ 10:52 PM

North Carolina and Virginia are heading in opposite directions, and nothing that happened Monday night changed that.

The surging Cavaliers led by double digits for the final 19 minutes and were up by as many as 23 before putting away the struggling Tar Heels 76-61 at John Paul Jones Arena.

While Virginia (14-5, 5-1 ACC) is off to its best start in ACC play since 1994-95, the Tar Heels (11-7, 1-4) lost four of their first five conference games for the second time in program history, following the 8-20 season in 2002.

“It’s tough because this is a winning program,” said freshman center Kennedy Meeks, who led UNC with 15 points and nine rebounds. “I’m sure Coach (Roy Williams) isn’t used to this. I’m sure Coach isn’t used to losing like we’ve been losing. We just have to keep working at it, and, sooner or later, we’re going to execute.”

The Cavs excelled in areas the Tar Heels take pride in — efficient offense, ball control, aggressive inside play. Virginia shot 48 percent to UNC’s 41 percent, had twice as many assists as turnovers (16 to 8) and made more free throws (16) than UNC attempted (12).

“Definitely frustrated, disappointed, angry — go down the list,” UNC junior James Michael McAdoo said. “But no one’s going to help us but ourselves. We’re the only ones who can get us out of this situation — we got us in this situation — so it’s just going to come down to, are we able to make those changes?”

After averaging 56.3 points in their first three ACC games, the Tar Heels thought they had turned things around offensively by scoring 82 in Saturday’s win over Boston College. But while the Eagles were last in the conference in scoring defense, Virginia was fourth in the nation, giving up just 56.6 points a game.

Guards Marcus Paige and Leslie McDonald continued to struggle from the outside — the pair were a combined 8 of 26, including 3 of 13 from long range — and the Tar Heels couldn’t get much traction inside despite 17 offensive rebounds. Virginia’s ball control and methodical offense prevented transition opportunities.

McDonald started for the second straight game in place of freshman point guard Nate Britt, while Joel James was reinserted into the starting lineup at center. On UNC’s first possession, McDonald missed two 3-pointers, but James helped get the offensive rebound both times, leading to a driving layup by McDonald.

UNC rebounded eight of its first 13 misses, and McAdoo found Meeks for a dunk that gave the Tar Heels a 27-26 lead with 5:51 left, but Virginia closed the half on a 12-2 run. The Cavs then scored on their first five possessions of the second half to go up by 15 and never looked back

“The game got going early in their pace,” Virginia coach Tony Bennett said. “They seduced us into a faster game than we needed to be in. We got control by the end of the first half, offensively and defensively, and played the way we needed to play in the second half.”

The Cavs beat the Tar Heels for the second straight year at John Paul Jones Arena — where they have won 12 straight conference games — and for the third time in the last 13 meetings overall.

After its first appearance on ACC’s new Monday night television package, UNC now has six days before hosting Clemson, which hasn’t won at Chapel Hill in 56 attempts, followed by games against Georgia Tech and N.C. State.

“This is going to be the week where you really find out how tough this team is mentally,” Paige said. “We’re strong enough to handle it and bounce back, but this is going to be the point right here. We have winnable games coming up that we have to take advantage of if we want our season to go in the direction that we want it to.”