By R.L. Bynum
GREENSBORO — RJ Davis tried to will North Carolina to a victory that the No. 7-seed Tar Heels desperately needed to make the NCAA tournament, but he needed help.
He didn’t get nearly enough of it.
His 24 points and four 3-pointers couldn’t avoid a possibly season-ending 68–59 loss Thursday to No. 2-seed Virginia in the quarterfinals of the ACC Tournament at the Greensboro Coliseum.
Armando Bacot, battling a left ankle injury, watched the last 10 minutes from the bench after he told Coach Hubert Davis that he couldn’t help the team. RJ Davis got some late help from Caleb Love, with all of his 11 points in the second half, and early help from Leaky Black, with eight of his 11 points in the first half.
None of it was enough.
“It’s not a great feeling,” RJ Davis said. “Not the expectations that we had coming into the year. It was definitely frustrating and disappointing, but one thing I can say about this group is we fight until the end. We’re a resilient group. We may get kicked down, but we always get back up, and that’s something that has been a major theme for this whole team.”
Virginia (23–6) plays Clemson in a Friday semifinal while Carolina (20–13) can only lament missed opportunities, with most players talking like that was the end of the season. While all said they would go along with the team’s decision, all spoke as if they wouldn’t be eager to play in the NIT.
Coach Davis was in no mood to talk about the NIT.
“I’m not thinking about that at all right now,” he said. “We just lost a game, and I’m thinking about them and thinking about this team, and that’s the only thing on my mind right now.”
Bacot told Coach Davis during the second TV timeout of the second half that he should insert Puff Johnson in place of him. Bacot credited athletic trainer Doug Halverson with giving him a chance to play. But the gap between playing and playing well was too large.
“As I went throughout the game, I really couldn’t do anything,” said Bacot, who went directly to working out on the exercise bike when he first came out of the game. “I couldn’t post up, couldn’t back my man down. Couldn’t really fight for rebounds. It was hard to screen and roll. I couldn’t do anything, so I thought Puff was a better option and I told the coaches.”
Bacot, who got off only four shots and finished with four points in 21 minutes, is always competitive and would have stayed out there if he expected that he could make a difference.
“That was a tough decision. But I just thought it was the right decision that put us in the best place to win,” said Bacot, who added that he couldn’t really gauge how different his ankle felt compared to when he hurt it at the Final Four. “I was thinking, ‘What can I do to help us.’ I thought that was the best thing to do.”
Even before the decision to sit Bacot for the last 10 minutes, it was evident that the senior center wasn’t himself.
“It wasn’t working the entire game,” Coach Davis said. “It was really difficult for him to get position or hold position down low in the post, very difficult for him to make any moves. When he set screens, it appeared and looked difficult for him to get out of the screens.”
As tough as the decision to sit out the final minutes was, Bacot faces other tough calls in the coming weeks. Bacot said he’ll decide soon about the future of his basketball career but didn’t hint about which way he was leaning.
“It’s something I’ll probably talk to my mom next week and figure out,” said Bacot, who could play a fifth season at Carolina because of the COVID-19 eligibility rule, talking like a player who doesn’t expect his team to be playing any more games.
Davis’ driving three-point play made it 57–55 with 1:59 left, but UNC could get no closer. Virginia put the game away in the last two minutes with nine free throws while the Tar Heels missed three 3-point attempts during that time.
“We had a number of opportunities to tie the ball game or make it a one-possession game,” Coach Davis said, pointing to five late missed three-throw attempts. “I think in the middle of missing those five free throws, I think we turned the ball over twice, as well.”
After Love hit a 3-pointer and made a nice pass to Pete Nance for a layup, Johnson’s free throw with 7:40 left cut Virginia’s lead to 51–47. Another Love 3-pointer and a free throw each from Davis and Love cut it to three. Love could sense that a winning rally might be coming.
“I knew we could come back from the deficit that we put ourselves in,” said Love, who dished out six assists. “It just wasn’t enough, though.”
It was an emotional night for RJ Davis, who did all that he could.
“I’m a competitor,” RJ Davis said. “I’m going to compete until the horn blows. For me, it’s just frustrating. It’s not the way I wanted the outcome to be today. I felt like there were plays we could have made. It’s been like that the whole year, just attention to details, little things we just need to perfect and didn’t do in today’s game.
UNC took a 9–5 lead on a pair of Black free throws with 11:38 left in the first half. But Virginia had a pair of steals and layups on a 15–4 run, and went up 20–13 on Francisco Caffaro’s dunk with 5:25 left.
Carolina stood around with insufficient movement on many possessions, which inevitably led to a bad shot with the shot clock about to expire.
The Tar Heels finished the first half with an 11–5 run, including a Black 3-pointer and two from Davis to slice Virginia’s deficit to 25–24.
Virginia scored on its first six possessions after halftime. A 12–6 Virginia run to start the second half, countered only by two Davis 3-pointers, shoved the Cavaliers’ lead back to 7 on a Jayden Gardner layup. Isaac McKneely’s 3-pointer with 11:11 left put Virginia up by 10.
Gardner led Virginia with 17 points and 10 rebounds. Reece Beekman added 15 points and Armaan Franklin pitched in 14.
NOTES — This was the second consecutive season UNC has faced Virginia in the ACC Tournament quarterfinals after the Heels won 63–43 in Brooklyn a year ago. They’ve met in the event five of the last nine years. … Carolina leads the series 134–62. … Virginia forward Ben Vander Plas fractured his right hand in practice Wednesday and is out for the season. He scored 17 points in Virginia’s 65–58 win over Carolina in Charlottesville on Jan. 10, his second-highest output of the season. He had started every game since that win. … There was a pregame moment of silence to remember former Virginia athletics director and men’s basketball coach Terry Holland, who died last week. … It was RJ Davis’ seventh game with at least 20 points this season.
Virginia 68, UNC 59
UNC lineup combinations
|Tuesday’s first round|
|No. 13 Georgia Tech 61, No. 12 Florida State (9–23) 60|
|No. 10 Boston College 80, No. 15 Louisville (2–19) 62|
|No. 11 Virginia Tech 67, No. 14 Notre Dame (11–21) 64|
|Wednesday’s second round|
|No. 9 Wake Forest 77, No. 8 Syracuse (17–15) 74|
|No. 5 Pittsburgh 89, Georgia Tech (15–18) 81|
|No. 7 North Carolina 85, Boston College (16–17) 61|
|No. 6 N.C. State 97, Virginia Tech (19–14) 77|
|No. 1 Miami 74, Wake Forest (19–14) 72|
|No. 4 Duke 96, Pittsburgh (22–11) 69|
|No. 2 Virginia 68, North Carolina (20–13) 59|
|No. 3 Clemson 80, N.C. State (23–10) 54|
|Duke 85, Miami (25–7) 78|
|Virginia 76, Clemson (23–10) 56|
|Duke (26–8) 59, vs. Virginia (25–7) 49|
|28||Friday||W, 101–40||Johnson C. Smith||Home||Exhibition|
|11||Friday||W, 102–86||College of Charleston||Home||2–0|
|20||Sunday||W, 80–64||James Madison||Home||4–0|
|Phil Knight Invitational|
|24||Thursday||W, 89–81||First round: Portland||Portland||5–0|
|27||Sunday||L, 103–101, |
No. 1 Alabama
|ACC/Big Ten Challenge|
|30||Wednesday||L, 77–65||No. 21 Indiana||Bloomington, Ind.||5–3|
|4||Sunday||L, 80–72||Virginia Tech||Blacksburg, Va.||5–4, |
|10||Saturday||W, 75–59||Georgia Tech||Home||6–4, |
|13||Tuesday||W, 100–67||The Citadel||Home||7–4|
|CBS Sports Classic|
|17||Saturday||W, 89–84, OT||Ohio State||New York||8–4|
|30||Friday||L, 76–74||Pittsburgh||Pittsburgh||9–5, |
|4||Wednesday||W, 88–79||Wake Forest||Home||10–5, |
|7||Saturday||W, 81–64||Notre Dame||Home||11–5, |
|10||Tuesday||L, 65–58||No. 14 Virginia||Charlottesville||11–6, |
|14||Saturday||W, 80–59||Louisville||Louisville, Ky.||12–6, |
|17||Tuesday||W, 72–64||Boston College||Home||13–6, |
|21||Saturday||W, 80–69||N.C. State||Home||14–6, |
|24||Tuesday||W, 72–68||Syracuse||Syracuse, N.Y.||15–6, |
|1||Wednesday||L, 65–64||Pittsburgh||Home||15–7, |
|4||Saturday||L, 63–57||No. 12 Duke||Durham||15–8, |
|7||Tuesday||L, 92–85||Wake Forest||Winston-Salem||15–9, |
|11||Saturday||W, 91–71||Clemson||Home|| 16–9, |
|13||Monday||L, 80–72||No. 16 Miami||Home||16–10, |
|19||Sunday||L, 77–69||N.C. State||Raleigh||16–11, |
|22||Wednesday||W, 63–59||Notre Dame||South Bend, Ind.||17–11, |
|25||Saturday||W, 71–63||No. 14 Virginia||Home||18–11, |
|27||Monday||W, 77–66||Florida State||Tallahassee, Fla.||19–11, |
|4||Saturday||L, 62–57||No. 12 Duke||Home||19–12,|
|8||Wednesday||W, 85–61||Boston College||Greensboro||20–12|
|9||Thursday||L, 68–59||No. 14 Virginia||Greensboro||20–13|
Photo courtesy of the ACC