Through six ACC games, North Carolina has been inconsistent when it comes to shooting, aggressiveness, turnovers and effort.
But one ugly constant reared its head, again, during the Tar Heels’ 75-60 loss to Virginia on Sunday: their inability to slow opposing guards.
Cavs sophomore Sylven Landesberg joined what it quickly becoming an “I-lit-up-Carolina” club, scoring 29 points on 11-for-18 shooting. He joins five other perimeter starters in the league who have exposed UNC this season: Virginia Tech’s Malcolm Delaney (26 points), Georgia Tech’s Iman Shumpert (30), Clemson’s Demontez Stitt (20), Wake Forest’s Ishmael Smith (20) and N.C. State’s Javi Gonzalez (19).
As a result, the Tar Heels (13-8) fell to 2-4 in the ACC, a precarious position when it comes to postseason hopes, what with 10 conference games – including six on the road -- left.
“How can you go any lower?’’ asked UNC coach Roy Williams. “Be honest: how can it be any worse than it is right now?’
Meanwhile, it marked Virginia’s (13-6, 4-2 ACC) first win at the Smith Center since Jan. 12, 2002.
“We made them earn,’’ said Cavaliers coach Tony Bennett. “I understand too they were cold and they didn’t play one of their best games. But we did take advantage of the opportunities we had.”
And there were quite a few.
UNC trailed from the outset, as it committed three turnovers in its first six possessions, made only 5 of their 12 first half free throw attempts, and saw starting forward Ed Davis attempt only two shots, and miss both of them (while also missing 4 of 6 free throws). It never got much better.
The reason the Tar Heels trailed only 35-30 at halftime was junior Will Graves, who had 14 first half points, and was 4-for-6 from behind the 3-point line.
But none of that could negate Landesberg, who had 16 points by halftime by consistently blowing by and shooting over Graves, then freshman John Henson, then senior Marcus Ginyard.
“We’re just not helping each other out,’’ Ginyard said. “One, we’re not guarding the ball. Two, we’re not really getting any help. We’re just not playing as a team on defense.”
After Davis scored on a dunk to open the second half and cut the Cavs’ lead to 35-32, Virginia sprinted to an 18-3 run, holding the Tar Heels without a field goal for eight minutes. Landesberg scored only three points, on a three-point play, during his team’s breakaway, but after UNC freshman Travis Wear scored on a putback to cut the Cavs’ advantage to 53-37, Landesberg bookended a Dexter Strickland jumper with two free throws, and a field goal.
UNC freshman Leslie McDonald also took a turn guarding him. But in the end, Landesberg scored 13 of his points in the second half, helping thwart any serious UNC comeback attempt, before Carolina's walk-ons entered the game with 1:04 left.
Graves and Larry Drew II led the Tar Heels with 15 points apiece. Guard Sammy Zeglinski added 19 points for the Cavs.
"We've got a lot of problems, and staying in front of the basketball has been one from Day One with this team,’’ Williams – who was tearing up in frustration – said after the game.. “And I really thought we could be a good defensive team, and we haven't shown that. Two or three games I thought we were really good defensively. Last game, I thought we were really good defensively but we’re not really good defensively on a consistent basis."