Roy Williams has a creative vocabulary.
The North Carolina coach didn’t need to rely on any of his “Roy-isms” on Saturday to explain the Tar Heels’ 61-49 loss to No. 8 Virginia.
“It was a big ol’ butt-kicking,” Williams said. “That’s all it was.”
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The Cavaliers (14-1, 3-0 ACC) forced 19 turnovers and held No. 12 UNC (12-4, 1-2) to 29.6 percent shooting for their fifth straight home over the Tar Heels.
Williams couldn’t get over the striking disparity in points off turnovers. Virginia had 25 and the Tar Heels had only three.
“We can’t beat you guys if you outscore us 25 to 3,” Williams said to the media in the postgame news conference. “Well, maybe we could beat you guys.”
The UNC coach did slip in a few of his pet phrases when describing three turnovers in the first half near the midcourt line which Virginia turned into breakaway dunks.
“You turn the sucker over at the center line, and they’re going to dunk the dadgum thing,” Williams said.
Guard Devon Hall’s steal and dunk, off of a Theo Pinson turnover, with 59.4 seconds left in the first half capped a 9-2 Virginia run and staked the Wahoos to a 35-28 lead.
“(My turnover) was just dumb,” Pinson said. “We can’t have those.”
Virginia happily took advantage of the errors and got 16 points and seven assists from Hall to offset a poor shooting performance by leading scorer Kyle Guy (2-of-10).
There were too many sloppy moments like that – and three other shot-clock violations by UNC’s offense – for the Tar Heels to avoid their worst ACC start since going 0-3 to begin the 2013-14 season.
A year after winning the national title, the Tar Heels are still trying to figure out who they are. Senior guard Joel Berry had 17 points and kept UNC in the game for long stretches, but there was little help elsewhere.
In that sense, it was like the second half of Wednesday’s loss at Florida State. Junior guard Kenny Williams added 11 points (eight in the first half), and he was the only other UNC player in double-digits.
The UVa defense bottled up junior forward Luke Maye, who entered the game as UNC’s leading scorer. Maye had a season-low six points and finished 2 of 10 from the floor.
Senior forward Isaiah Wilkins was primarily responsible for holding Maye 11 points below his season average, but UNC wasn’t looking much on the inside for Maye.
Virginia, by any metric, has the top defense in the country, and it looked every bit as good as it does on paper.
“Their defense is really good,” Williams said. “I told (UVa coach) Tony (Bennett) it’s about as good a defensive game I’ve had anybody play against us, maybe ever, but definitely in a long time.”
The Heels played into Virginia’s hands by taking tough shots and trying to drive into the teeth of the defense without an escape plan.
The Heels took 23 3-pointers (and made eight) and for the second time this season were held under 30 percent from the floor. The other time was the 63-45 loss to Michigan State on Nov. 26.
Virginia can make other teams look bad, especially in this building, but UNC’s struggles are starting to be a trend.
The Heels have now lost three of their past five games and the one ACC win (73-69 over Wake Forest) was by four points and required a last-minute comeback.
There are missing parts from last year’s championship team, notably inside, but there’s also something out of sorts on offense.
“We’ve got to make some changes, we’ve got to make some tweaks,” Williams said. “We have to do a few things.”
Nothing radical, Williams said, but something will have to change or the losses and close calls will continue in ACC play.
Joe Giglio: 919-829-8938, @jwgiglio