Cavs un­able to stop Tar Heels’ at­tack

The Washington Post Sunday - - COLLEGE BASKETBALL - BY MARK GIANNOTTO gi­an­not­tom@wash­post.com

NORTH CAROLINA 93, VIR­GINIA 81

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — Vir­ginia Coach Tony Ben­nett spent much of his Satur­day af­ter­noon in the same pose, crouched along the vis­it­ing side­line of the Dean E. Smith Cen­ter with a hand over his fur­rowed brow.

No mat­ter how many times he turned to his as­sis­tants in a search for an­swers, Ben­nett found none on an af­ter­noon when his usu­ally st­ingy de­fense went miss­ing. The Cava­liers couldn’t stop North Carolina from get­ting into the paint, strug­gled to keep the Tar Heels off the of­fen­sive glass and al­lowed them to hit more three-point­ers than they had in any ACC game this sea­son.

“You can’t take away ev­ery­thing and we weren’t tak­ing away any­thing,” a frus­trated Ben­nett said af­ter Vir­ginia lost to the Tar Heels, 93-81, in a game that set sev­eral ig­no­min­ious marks for the coach.

“They had us pretty much guess­ing, a step be­hind, and it’s a bad feel­ing when you’re sit­ting on the bench say­ing: ‘We can’t get a stop. We can’t,’ ” Ben­nett said. “We just ex­changed buck­ets. Maybe that’s made for TV and ev­ery­body en­joys that, but it’s not fun when you’re sit­ting there try­ing to get stops.”

The Cava­liers (18-7, 8-4 ACC) en­tered Satur­day with seven wins in their past eight games, and their re­match with the Tar Heels (17-8, 7-5) car­ried all sorts of NCAA tour­na­ment im­pli­ca­tions. On this day, though, Ben­nett’s team com­pletely lost track of its iden­tity.

For the sec­ond time in three games, Vir­ginia gave up a new sea­son high in points, and this time the new mark was set with 9 min­utes 15 sec­onds re­main­ing. It’s the most points the Cava­liers have al­lowed in an ACC game un­der Ben­nett, and sec­ond­most points Vir­ginia has al­lowed in Ben­nett’s four sea­sons lead­ing the pro­gram (the Cava­liers lost, 106-63, to Washington at the Maui In­vi­ta­tional on Nov. 22, 2010).

The Tar Heels broke open a tie game at half­time by shoot­ing 55.2 per­cent and scor­ing 53 points in the sec­ond half, more than the Cava­liers have al­lowed in 11 games this year, in­clud­ing a 61-52 win over North Carolina last month in Char­lottesville.

North Carolina, which used a four­guard lineup for the sec­ond straight game, con­sis­tently ex­ploited Vir­ginia’s de­fense.

Sopho­more P. J. Hairston led the charge with a ca­reer-high 29 points, in­clud­ing six of the Tar Heels’ 13 three-point­ers, and fresh­man Mar­cus Paige added 19 points.

The Cava­liers, mean­while, wasted a sec­ond straight ca­reer-high per­for­mance from ju­nior Joe Har­ris, who fin­ished with 27 points. With the Tar Heels click­ing on all cylin­ders early in the sec­ond half, he scored 11 straight Vir­ginia points in a span of 2:36.

But each time Har­ris struck, North Carolina re­sponded with a bas­ket of its own and the lead quickly bal­looned to 18 points.

The Cava­liers made mat­ters worse by play­ing at a fre­netic pace that is un­char­ac­ter­is­tic for them. They had 14 turnovers as a re­sult.

“We got se­duced into their style of play,” said guard Jon­tel Evans, who had sea­son highs in points (12) and turnovers (six).

“They were the ag­gres­sor on both ends of the floor.”

The raw num­bers sug­gested of­fense was not the prob­lem for Vir­ginia, which made a sea­son-high 12 three-point­ers, con­nected on 11 of its first 13 shot at­tempts, fin­ished 58.5 per­cent from the floor and col­lected the most points a Ben­nett-led team has ever scored in a loss.

But Ben­nett lamented how the Cava­liers took too many quick shots, in­stead of try­ing to wear down the run-and-gun Tar Heels. That, though, paled in com­par­i­son to how dis­heart­ened he be­came watch­ing Vir­ginia on the other end of the floor.

“When they’re hit­ting, and you’re not do­ing a whole lot to stop it,” Ben­nett said. “it’s go­ing to be a long night.”

PHO­TOS BY GERRY BROOME/AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Above, North Carolina's Brice John­son dunks over Vir­ginia’s Justin An­der­son (23). The Cava­liers al­lowed the most points in an ACC game un­der Coach Tony Ben­nett. On the bright side, Joe Har­ris, (No. 12, left) scored 27 points for Vir­ginia.

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