UNC came out firing before suffering through one of its coldest offensive spells of the season, losing a nine-point lead and trailing by seven at halftime to the undermanned Cavaliers. Virginia then jumped out to a double-figure margin in the second half, before the Heels methodically cut away at the deficit before finally breaking through and holding on in the closing minute.
There were no offensive stars for the Tar Heels, which shot just 37 percent on the game and 27 percent on threes. Needless to say, numbers like those will result in a lot of losses this season, and everyone associated with the team understands that.
As he has been most of the season, Tyler Zeller became a key figure late. He’s the closest thing Carolina possesses to a go-to scorer, and he was the only Heel to reach double figures. Though 4-for-10 shooting for 12 points hardly constitutes a career day, he hung in and battled even while the team’s offense sputtered.
Gloomy forecasting aside, however, three aspects of Carolina’s performance stand out as positives going forward:
1) Any conference road win is beautiful. The Heels likely need to finish at least 9-7 in league play to receive a bid to the NCAA Tournament, and they figure to be favored in all but one (Duke) of their home games. If they can win half of their road contests, a 6-2 home record would get them to 10-6 overall and solidify their tournament standing.
2) The Tar Heels nailed their free throws at a time they couldn’t afford to miss them. Free throw shooting isn’t a team strength, but against both Kentucky and now Virginia, the Heels were able to knock down their freebies.
3) The team’s competitive vigor for outpaces what last year’s Tar Heels demonstrated, as they had every opportunity to become desperate when they fell behind. Carolina’s comeback wasn't facilitated by a player having a hot hand, either; the Heels simply fought hard on defense and picked up points as best they could.
UNC returns home to face to face Virginia Tech on Thursday, a club expected by many to be second-best in the ACC this season prior to getting decimated by injuries. As mentioned, the Heels need to do their best work in Chapel Hill, so getting off to a 1-0 start against a suffering club is essential.
To see the UNC/UVa box score, click here.