CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — Virginia coach Tony Bennett took the blame for a poor approach in No. 23 Virginia’s 24-point loss at No. 5 North Carolina nine days ago.
On Monday night, he gave his team the credit for making a new approach work in a 53-43 victory against the Tar Heels.
Kyle Guy scored 17 points, London Perrantes had 13 and the Cavaliers used a small lineup to neutralize the Tar Heels’ size advantage. It produced the lowest-scoring game for North Carolina in Roy Williams’ 14 years as coach, and the lowest overall since 1979.
“We made a commitment about three weeks ago or two weeks ago that we’re just going to be a better defensive team by the end of the year,” said Bennett, whose team had already ranked as the stingiest scoring defense in the country much of the year. “We just have to be.”
Against the Tar Heels, the smaller, quicker lineup forced 12 first-half turnovers and freshmen sharpshooters Guy and Ty Jerome gave Perrantes to offensive lift Virginia needed, hitting all four of the Cavaliers’ first-half 3-pointers as they took a 27-23 lead into the locker room.
The Tar Heels (25-6, 13-4) got within 40-39 with 9:26 left, but Perrantes made back-to-back 3s, rousing the crowd at John Paul Jones Arena to deafening levels. When Jack Salt added a putback that lingered on the rim, then dropped, the outcome seemed certain.
Guy, who got his second straight start, has energized the offense. He scored 19 in a victory at North Carolina State on Saturday.
“If he’s hitting shots and we can get him going quick, we’re going to find him. We’re able to get in the lane and make drives and kicks or we have any sets we run for him, if he’s able to get going, he spaces and opens the floor for a lot of people,” said Devon Hall, who scored 11.
North Carolina, averaging 86.2 points, scored just four points in the game’s last 9:26.
“Tonight I don’t think it was as much what we did wrong as much as how good their defense was,” Williams said.
The Tar Heels, who had won four straight, were led by Joel Berry II with 12 points. ACC player of the year contender Justin Jackson managed just seven points after missing seven of 10 shots, and the team shot just 35.4 points (17 for 48). They were 4 for 16 from 3.
After ending their longest losing streak since Bennett’s first year on Saturday , Isaiah Wilkins thinks Virginia is rebounding well.
“It’s just one win,” he said. “One win changes a lot for the confidence. We got the win at N.C. State and guys are back shooting the ball. We got a swagger back and a little confidence back.”
HE SAID IT
“He’s a heck of a kid and a heck of a competitor. I really enjoy watching him play when he’s playing someone else.” — Roy Williams on Virginia senior guard London Perrantes, who made his 129th career start Monday night, a Virginia program record.
Virginia was outrebounded 44-26 at North Carolina on Feb. 18 , but just 38-35 Monday night. … They were 2 for 20 on 3-pointers in Chapel Hill, with Perrantes, guy and Jerome a combines 1 for 12, but 10 for 24 in the rematch with the same trio going 9 for 18.
North Carolina: The Tar Heels might not have been as sharp as they would have been had they not already clinched at least a share of the ACC regular season title, but Monday night’s game marked the fourth time this season they have scored 23 or fewer points in the first half. They also had 12 turnovers by halftime after averaging just 9.7 in their previous seven games.
Virginia: After coach Tony Bennett used his freshmen sparingly in the second half of four consecutive losses that demonstrated their offensive challenges without the young players, Bennett appears to be willing to sacrifice defensive experience for offensive necessity, and Guy and Ty Jerome have provided a scoring boost.