CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — A couple years back, North Carolinas Final Four teams used to like to take peoples brownies on the road.
These days, it looks like these Tar Heels will settle for stealing cookies.
Trailing by as many as 11 points in the second half after going roughly nine minutes without a field goal -- UNC nonetheless topped Virginia 62-56 in an ugly ACC opener at John Paul Jones Arena.
Both teams shot worse than 27 percent in the second half, but the Tar Heels (11-4, 1-0 ACC) made 14 of their last 16 free throws to survive.
Im sitting here right now, and I feel like Ive been inside the cookie jar in the cookie store and stole every cookie out of the jar and every cookie out of the store, said Roy Williams, whose team put up the second-lowest amount of points in a win since he returned to Chapel Hill. And I want to get out of town as fast as I can. It was one of the ugliest Ws Ive ever been involved with.
But it will also be interesting to see if it ultimately becomes an important W, as far as a building block.
Leading by as many as nine points early in the first half, UNC officially lost its momentum with an 8 minute, 53 second stretch bookending halftime during which it missed 12 straight shots and saw Virginia (10-6, 1-1) build a 10-point lead. Forward Tyler Zeller finally ended the frigid spell with a bucket that cut UNCs deficit to 40-32 with 15:03 left.
But even after Cavs guard Jontel Evans countered by burying a long 3-pointer with the shot clock ticking down to give the Cavs their largest advantage, 43-32, something important happened for the Tar Heels: [We had] a lot of confidence that we could still get it done, Zeller said. Nobody was out of it, saying, Oh, its over. Everybody was still playing.
And when was the last time that happened?
Maybe once or twice last year, Zeller said, referring to the 17-loss season. But for the most part, probably my freshman year. (When UNC won the national championship, and was still stealing peoples brownies.)
Granted, you cant set aside the homely quality to the victory, or the problems UNC still has to solve. Even after forward John Henson put the Tar Heels ahead for the first time in the second half with a layup with 3:15 left; and even after five straight free throws, combined, from Justin Knox, Larry Drew II and Dexter Strickland gave the Tar Heels a 57-52 cushion with 1:13 left; UNC still allowed Evans to score on back-to-back buckets to make it a one-point game.
But the fact that the Tar Heels were able to pull it out at the end thanks to missed shots by Evans and KT Harrell for UVa., and four free throws from Strickland, in the final 28 seconds showed and improved fortitude that was usually lacking this time last year.
This sends a message to everybody that were not going to back down, Strickland said. Our focus and wanting to win is better than last years. I think we have tougher players on this team than last year, and weve just got to keep it up.
Zeller was the only player in double figures for the Tar Heels, who have now won seven of their last eight games.
Harrell had 13 points for Virginia, which continues to play without its leading scorer, injured forward Mike Scott.
We had some toughness, Williams said, more toughness than Ive seen today in a long time.
At least since the brownie-stealing days.
Read more: http://blogs.newsobserver.com/accnow/tar-heels-trail-virginia-at-halftime#ixzz1ATqv5Unn
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