The North Carolina Tar Heels rebounded nicely today with a win over the University of Virginia by a score of 93-81 in front of a star studded crowd at the Dean Dome. The win not only snapped their two game losing streak, but also gave Carolina a win that they desperately needed in order to stay in contention for a spot in the NCAA Tournament.
For the second game in a row, Roy Williams answered the fans prayers and started PJ Hairston in order to give the starting lineup more offensive firepower. Unfortunately, the hot start wasn’t there quite like it was earlier in the week in the loss at Cameron Indoor against Duke. The Tar Heel’s defense came out sluggish and the Virginia Cavaliers took full advantage. The Wahoos shot a season high 63% from the field in the first half, which included 8 three pointers, and ended up with 40 points at halftime which was also a season high. The Tar Heels small lineup eventually responded with tough pressure defense and some three point shots of their own that got them back in the game and even gave them the lead after falling early to a double digit deficit. It looked like the Tar Heels were poised to take control in the final seconds after Dexter Strickland hit a tough jumper in the lane to put UNC up by 3 only to be answered by Jontel Evans with a half court shot as the first half expired to tie the game.
The hot shooting continued as soon as the second half tipped off as both teams seemed determined to not let one out do the other. Fortunately, the Tar Heels took the advantage early going on an 8-0 run and forcing Virginia to be the one playing catch up. The Tar Heels scored effectively by spreading the floor and getting buckets from several players, but most notably, PJ Hairston who recorded a career high 29 points. On Virginia’s side, it was their star player Joe Harris (27 points), who stepped up in order to try and keep his team in the game. Watching Harris and guys like Hairston and Marcus Paige was probably the most exciting blow for blow I can remember ever seeing in basketball. For about three or four minutes, one three was made by Harris and was immediately answered by the Heels which kept their relatively slim lead just out of reach.
Around the ten minute mark, the hot shooting, tough defense, and amount of offensive boards from North Carolina started to take it’s toll on Virginia as the increased their lead against Virginia to 10+ points and got it to as many as 18. The Tar Heels also eclipsed the 70 point mark, which was the first time all season that Virginia’s defense had given up at least that many points in one game. Virginia made it interesting at the end with a late 9-0 run, but their effort was too little too late.
If your Roy Williams, you have to please with the win, especially against team that not only beat you earlier in the season, but also ranks ahead of you in the ACC Standings. We all know that with the Tar Heels being a team squarely on the bubble, every game from here on out is a must win if they want to make sure they are included in the big dance next month. With tough games next week on the road against Georgia Tech and at home against NC State, the pressure will continue to stay high. Fortunately, for Tar Heel fans, it looks like Roy will continue to go with PJ Hairston in his starting five. With the point production for North Carolina playing close to thirty minutes a game, there is no reason why Carolina can’t continue to pick up wins down the stretch.