CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — Despite being outrebounded, battling foul trouble and missing its last 11 3-pointers, the University of Virginia still had an opportunity to win Saturday. Three of them, in fact.
But North Carolina found a way to quiet a sellout crowd with a 54-51 victory that leaves Virginia in the ACC’s second tier. The Wahoos are now 0-4 against the league’s top three teams, and 8-2 against the rest.
A partisan crowd spent most of the second half riding the officials, who whistled the ‘Hoos early and often. Virginia’s three active forwards had seven fouls at the end of the first half.
Mike Scott, the team’s leading scorer, was whistled for his fourth with 11 minutes remaining in the game. He went for a rebound with his arm, and UNC’s John Henson snapped his head back as if he had been elbowed.
“I didn’t know I was that strong,” Scott joked after the game.
“Right now, it wouldn’t be wise for me to comment on the calls,” U.Va. coach Tony Bennett said.
The Tar Heels begged to differ.
“I don’t think that John is that good of an actor,” UNC coach Roy Williams said.
Despite the foul disparity, Virginia once again rode giant-slayer Jontel Evans in the second half, keeping the margin tight the whole way. Ultimately, though, the 3-point shooting went cold at the wrong time.
With a minute to play and the ‘Hoos down by one, Scott missed an open look from the right corner.
There was a 10-second difference between the shot and game clocks, and Bennett opted to play defense instead of fouling. Virginia held until the final seconds, when Tyler Zeller made a pump-fake on Akil Mitchell, got the forward to bite and threw home a dunk to make it a three-point game.
“I made a huge mistake there,” Mitchell said. “We’ve worked on that all year. I figured the shot clock was running out, so I contested the shot and got a little too anxious.”
Scott echoed that thought, adding that “we know he’s not a threat from out there. Let him shoot.”
Still, Zeglinski found himself with an open 3-pointer from the left corner that would have tied the game. He missed, and Evans was long on a desperation look at the buzzer for Virginia (21-7, 8-6 ACC).
Much like the first meeting with North Carolina (25-4, 12-2), the Tar Heels dominated the boards, coming away with a 48-29 rebounding edge. Some of those could be attributed to the fact that Virginia was forced into a four-guard look, with all three big men in foul trouble.
“You can’t play as physical, because the refs are quick to call certain things,” Cavaliers freshman Darion Atkins said. “If you’re a little bit too physical, it may not go the way you want it to go.”
That disappointment was evident to a sellout crowd that provided the best atmosphere of the season at John Paul Jones Arena. Among the notable names in attendance were Katie Couric, Paul Tudor Jones, a handful of former basketball players and many of U.Va.’s football recruits for 2013.
They saw a Cavaliers squad that still is in solid position to make the NCAA tournament, but hasn’t found a way to knock off the big boys.
“We’ve got to beat the top teams,” Scott said. “Got swept by UNC, lost to Florida State, lost to Duke. Those are the top teams … definitely have to get a win against them.”
Virginia has one home game left, and one more opportunity to do so, against the Seminoles on Thursday night.
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