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UNC suffers humbling 76-61 loss against Virginia

By Andrew Carter
acarter@newsobserver.com
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    Robert Willett - rwillett@newsobserver.com
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    Robert Willett - rwillett@newsobserver.com
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    Robert Willett - rwillett@newsobserver.com
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    Robert Willett - rwillett@newsobserver.com

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. North Carolina players spoke of changed ways and lessons learned following their victory Saturday against Boston College. They spoke of adjusted attitudes, and understanding that they needed to give more.

In the moments after the Tar Heels’ 76-61 defeat at Virginia on Monday night, some of those same players spoke of rebounding, yet again, from disappointment. They spoke of how they wouldn’t fold following a loss that gave North Carolina just its second 1-4 ACC start in school history.

“Of course everybody is down because we lost,” said freshman forward Kennedy Meeks, who finished with 15 points and nine rebounds, and whose performance represented one of the Tar Heels’ few positives at John Paul Jones Arena. “But like coach said, we’ve got to keep digging. We’re not going to roll over.”

The Tar Heels are 1-4 in the ACC for the first time since 2002, when they went on to finish 8-20 overall in what is remembered as one of the worst seasons – perhaps the worst – in UNC’s storied basketball history. There is plenty of time for these Tar Heels (11-7) to turn their season around, though their performance offered a troubling reminder that for now, at least, UNC’s problems go far deeper than a lack of effort.

After UNC lost its first three conference games, James Michael McAdoo and Marcus Paige, the team’s captains, focused on adjusting their teammates’ attitudes. Effort, though, wasn’t the issue.

“The easiest way to put it is the more efficient team won the game,” North Carolina coach Roy Williams said.

Virginia (14-5, 5-1), for the most part, did what it wanted and controlled UNC in all aspects. That was especially true during the final six minutes of the first half, and the first three minutes of the second.

During that span, the Cavaliers went from trailing 27-26 after a Meeks dunk with about six minutes left before halftime to leading by 15 points with 17 minutes, 10 seconds remaining.

North Carolina came undone amid a torrent of turnovers, missed shots and poor defensive possessions. And then the Cavaliers never allowed the Tar Heels another chance. UNC, which trailed by nine at halftime, trailed by double digits for the final 19 minutes of the game, and Virginia led by as many as 23.

“It is tough,” Paige, a sophomore guard, said when asked how difficult it is to rally against Virginia. “They don’t beat themselves, they take their time on offense. And defensively, they don’t make any mistakes..”

After a promising start, the Tar Heels shot 41.3 percent from the field. They missed six of their final seven shots in the first half, along with several second-chance opportunities. At halftime, UNC had nine offensive rebounds to Virginia’s five. Yet the Cavaliers had a 9-4 advantage in second-chance points.

The Tar Heels’ inability to capitalize on second-chance opportunities, combined with their inability to get to the free-throw line, doomed them. When the Cavaliers weren’t generating open looks, they were getting to the free-throw line, where they made 16 of their 29 attempts.

The Tar Heels attempted 12 free throws and missed seven of them.

“That’s not the officials,” Williams said. “The other teams are being more aggressive.”

Outside of Meeks, a former standout from West Charlotte High, there were few bright spots for Williams and his team. The Tar Heels had built a bit of momentum during their 82-71 victory Saturday, but the good vibes evaporated amid that decisive stretch late in the first half and early in the second.

Afterward, Williams entered the locker room and attempted to spread a message of hope. He told his players not to hang their heads. McAdoo, who finished with 11 points, said Williams is “just searching” for answers.

“We all realize that we can’t really dwell on this loss too much but we do need to learn from it, like we’ve learned from previous losses,” McAdoo said. “And hopefully this doesn’t become a habit.”

Uneven performances already have become a habit for the Tar Heels. They have mixed in brilliant victories with baffling defeats, but there was no mystery to what transpired against Virginia.

UNC simply lost to a better team – a “more efficient team,” as Williams described it. And now, amid one of the worst conference starts in school history, the Tar Heels will return home searching for answers again.

Carter: 919-829-8944; Twitter: @_andrewcarter
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