Just three days after the Duke-authored collapse that will live in infamy — and eternally on ESPN — Carolina hosted Virginia and failed to open the competition with its customary joy. (When John Henson is bummed, you know something is wrong.)
But the Heels persevered through a turbulent first half and raced past the Cavaliers in the second, simply overwhelming one of the most plodding clubs in all of college basketball. Carolina didn’t falter during the closing minutes this time and expanded the lead to cement a 70-52 victory.
Tyler Zeller, whose missed free throws and defensive blunders contributed to the Duke catastrophe, demonstrated senior poise by tossing in 25 points on 9-for-16 shooting. He added nine rebounds, three assists, three steals and a block, making him by far the most productive Tar Heel on the day.
Apart from Zeller, Carolina shot just 15-for-52 from the field. Thus, credit belongs to both Zeller and the team’s defense and rebounding — the Heels hammered UVa 52-32 on the glass — for winning comfortably despite atrocious shooting overall.
In fact, UNC connected on just one three-pointer and has made 2-for-16 in the past two games. Very few teams realistically can endeavor toward a national championship without hitting from long-range, and the marksmanship issue ranks foremost among Carolina’s limiting factors based upon recent results.
Heavy anxiety also has arisen due to the squad’s deteriorating health. P.J. Hairston couldn’t play against Virginia because of a sore foot, and no one has said yet exactly how serious that injury may be. Given that wings Dexter Strickland and Leslie McDonald already are out for the season, Carolina certainly cannot afford another boo-boo.
Meanwhile, the bench actually performed solidly on Saturday. Freshman James Michael McAdoo has begun to utilize his natural athletic talent to make plays, and his evolving offensive game could prove a vital asset in postseason tournaments.
Freshman Stilman White performed effectively enough that Roy Williams was able to rest starter Kendall Marshall for eight minutes, a rare luxury for the sophomore workhorse. Senior Justin Watts competed aggressively on defense and made himself a weapon on the offensive backboard.
No win could have erased memories from the Duke game, but at least Carolina outlasted its lethargy and toppled a challenging foe. The Heels will travel to Miami on Wednesday, as four of the final six ACC contests take place on the road.
Click here to view the UNC/UVa box score.