UNC may have shot itself off bubble with big win over No. 6 Virginia

By R.L. Bynum

CHAPEL HILL — North Carolina may have shot itself off the bubble in one evening.

Where the Tar Heels go from here, as always with this team, is hard to predict. But their 71–63 victory over No. 6 Virginia Saturday at the Smith Center for an elusive Quad 1 win that won’t get erased at least puts them in a better position to make the NCAA tournament.

After making only two of 23 3-point attempts in an ugly win at Notre Dame, Carolina (18–11, 10–8 ACC) tied for its best perimeter half of the season, building a 16-point halftime lead and holding on for its first home win over a top-10 team in four seasons. Carolina finished 10 of 22 from 3-point range.

“I thought they were locked in,” said coach Hubert Davis, who was still upset with the effort against the Irish. “There’s a level of competitiveness and fight that you have to have to play here. They played really well today. I am pleased with the response but it’s not over yet. I’m still ticked off. And I told them to enjoy today and then let’s get after it tomorrow.”

UNC did it even though Armando Bacot was battling foul trouble and held to 11 points and six rebounds, thanks to an outstanding overall game from RJ Davis (16 points, two 3-pointers and a season-high-tying 10 rebounds) and a resurgent effort from Pete Nance (22 points, four 3-pointers and four blocks). It was his best game since scoring 21 at Syracuse. Leaky Black had another outstanding defensive game that included a career-high four blocks.

“Within this locker room, we’re nothing but positive and nothing but keeping each other together and not really worried about [NCAA projections],” RJ Davis said. “That doesn’t bother us at all. Not trying to put too much pressure on ourselves. Just more about focusing on one game at a time.”

Bacot, who admitted a week or so ago that he’s worried about not making the NCAA tournament, looked relieved.

“Obviously this one does weigh a lot more,” Bacot said. “As players, we knew what’s at stake. Coaches don’t get into it too much. But as players, we knew we had to go out and win this game because there’s a huge one.”

Has Carolina started to flip the switch? Bacot wasn’t about to go there.

“I don’t know. I don’t want to jinx it. I’ve been asked that too many times this year,” Bacot said.

Coach Davis says he isn’t superstitious, but he’ll keep buying the lemon Oreo cookies from Harris-Teeter that Nance suggested after practice on Thursday. Davis didn’t eat them because he’s lactose intolerant, but he thinks it brought good luck.

“Right after the game, I walked into the locker room, I said, ‘Guys, you have no idea what allowed us to be pretty good today,’ ” Davis said. “[Nance] went into the locker and pulled out the Oreos. So, as soon as I leave you guys, I’m going to Harris-Teeter for some more lemon Oreos.”

It wasn’t the cookies that helped Nance get through the rough spots of the season, but trying to ignore what was being said about him and keeping a level head.

“It’s really hard,” Nance said. “When you play for a place like this and come to a new school, you want to be able to help. And sometimes when you’re in a slump, it feels like you’re not. You hear all the outside noise and what people are saying. Just keeping my head down. All the credit to my teammates for continuing to trust me and continuing to believe in me, and that means the world to me.”

He said that he deals with public criticism better than when he was younger but that it still is hard.

“It’s definitely different here than it was at Northwestern, I think just as far as just being a bigger fan base,” Nance said. “I’ve tried to block it out as much as I can.”

Nance said that his back feels 100% and that’s made a big difference for him.

“I haven’t felt anything and am hoping not to feel anything going forward. My back has felt good,” Nance said. “It’s been a big difference-maker. Back is connected to everything, so when that doesn’t hurt, I think it’s definitely easier to play for sure.”

Coach Davis praised Puff Johnson, who hits some big shots and finished with eight points, five rebounds and a pair of big 3-pointers, and played at the small forward and big forward spots.

“We need his ability to shoot the basketball and he was really good at practice [Friday],” Davis said of Johnson, whose right eye was almost shut during the Notre Dame game because of a stye. He had a patch over the eye in practice on Thursday. “He played really well today and it was huge. His energy, his effort, not just his threes. He always attacks the offensive glass. I thought he did a good job rebounding, defending.”

It only took around five minutes for UNC to score more 3-pointers (3) than it had at Notre Dame (2). Nance’s second 3-pointer ended a 7–0 run to give the Tar Heels an 18–10 lead before a Virginia timeout with nearly 7½ minutes into the game.

Carolina went from scoring 18 points in the first 6:35 to only mustering three in the next 6½ minutes before back-to-back Johnson 3-pointers. Those 3s started a 10–3 UNC run to stretch its lead to 13 on a Bacot dunk with 4:12 left in the first half.


Appropriately, Nance’s off-balance buzzer-beating 3-pointer gave UNC a 42–26 halftime lead. He admitted that the shot was thrown up with a prayer.

Virginia (21–6, 13–5) cut the lead to eight with a 10–2 run to start the second half and made seven of its first 11 shots. But a Black 3-pointer and an RJ Davis three-point play pushed it back to 12. A Nance dunk with 6:18 left restored the lead to 12 as Virginia missed 14 consecutive shots.

An 8–0 Cavaliers run cut the lead to six when Armaan Franklin scored a 3-pointer with 30 seconds left and hit a jumper with 21 seconds left. Love removed all doubt, though, with two free throws with 1 seconds left.

Jalen Gardner led Virginia with 19 points.

NOTES — It’s a quick turnaround for Carolina, which plays at Florida State at 7 p.m. Monday (ESPN) in their only regular-season meeting. The Seminoles (9–20, 6–10) snapped a four-game losing streak Saturday with an 85–84 road upset of No. 13 Miami. … An NBA scout at the game said that he thinks that Black will make an NBA roster because of his defense. … UNC’s nine first-half 3-pointers tied the season-high in a half, equaling the second-half total against Clemson. … UNC’s 42 points tied for the most points Virginia has given up this season in a half. Virginia Tech also put up that total in the second half against the Cavaliers. … Kennedy Meeks and Kenny Williams were at the game. … Carolina has won three of the last four meetings with Virginia, and leads the series 134–61. … UNC’s previous win over a team ranked in the top 10 came 79–70 against No. 3 Duke on March 9, 2019. This was the fourth home game against a top-10 team since that win. … This was the fourth win over a top-10 opponent in Coach Davis’s two seasons as head coach (No. 4 Duke, No. 4 Baylor and No. 9 Duke last season).

UNC 71, No. 6 Virginia 63

UNC lineup combinations


ACC standings

No. 16 Miami15–524–6
No. 13 Virginia15–523–6
No. 25 Pittsburgh14–621–10
N.C. State12–822–9
North Carolina11–919–12
Wake Forest10–1018–13
Boston College9–1115–16
Virginia Tech8–1218–13
Florida State7–139–22
Georgia Tech6–1414–17
Notre Dame3–1711–20

Saturday’s games
Duke 62, North Carolina 57
No. 13 Virginia 75, Louisville 60
Georgia Tech 73, Boston College 65
Virginia Tech 82, Florida State 60
Syracuse 72, Wake Forest 63
No. 26 Miami 78, No. 25 Pittsburgh 76
Clemson 87, Notre Dame 64
End of regular season

UNC statistics

(current ranking)
28FridayW, 101–40Johnson C. Smith HomeExhibition
7MondayW, 69–56UNCWHome1–0
11FridayW, 102–86College of CharlestonHome2–0
15TuesdayW, 72–66Gardner-WebbHome3–0
20SundayW, 80–64James MadisonHome4–0
Phil Knight Invitational
24ThursdayW, 89–81First round: PortlandPortland5–0
25FridayL, 70–65Semifinals:
Iowa State
27SundayL, 103–101,
4 OTs
No. 1 Alabama
ACC/Big Ten Challenge
30WednesdayL, 77–65 No. 21 IndianaBloomington, Ind.5–3
4SundayL, 80–72 Virginia TechBlacksburg, Va.5–4,
0–1 ACC
10SaturdayW, 75–59Georgia TechHome6–4,
1–1 ACC
13TuesdayW, 100–67The CitadelHome7–4
CBS Sports Classic
17SaturdayW, 89–84, OTOhio StateNew York8–4
Jumpman Invitational
21WednesdayW, 80–76MichiganCharlotte9–4
30 Friday L, 76–74PittsburghPittsburgh9–5,
1–2 ACC
4WednesdayW, 88–79Wake ForestHome10–5,
2–2 ACC
7SaturdayW, 81–64Notre DameHome11–5,
3–2 ACC
10TuesdayL, 65–58No. 14 VirginiaCharlottesville11–6,
3–3 ACC
14SaturdayW, 80–59LouisvilleLouisville, Ky.12–6,
4–3 ACC
17TuesdayW, 72–64Boston CollegeHome13–6,
5–3 ACC
21SaturdayW, 80–69N.C. StateHome14–6,
6–3 ACC
24TuesdayW, 72–68SyracuseSyracuse, N.Y.15–6,
7–3 ACC
1WednesdayL, 65–64PittsburghHome15–7,
7–4 ACC
4SaturdayL, 63–57No. 12 DukeDurham15–8,
7–5 ACC
7TuesdayL, 92–85Wake ForestWinston-Salem15–9,
7–6 ACC
11SaturdayW, 91–71ClemsonHome 16–9,
8–6 ACC
13MondayL, 80–72No. 16 MiamiHome16–10,
8–7 ACC
19SundayL, 77–69N.C. StateRaleigh16–11,
8–8 ACC
22WednesdayW, 63–59Notre DameSouth Bend, Ind.17–11,
9–8 ACC
25SaturdayW, 71–63No. 14 VirginiaHome18–11,
10–8 ACC
27MondayW, 77–66Florida StateTallahassee, Fla.19–11,
11–8 ACC
4SaturdayL, 62–57No. 12 DukeHome19–12,
11–9 ACC
ACC tournament
8WednesdayW, 85–61Boston CollegeGreensboro20–12
9ThursdayL, 68–59No. 14 Virginia Greensboro20–13

Photo via @UNC_Basketball


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s