CHAPEL HILL — After a slow start against slow-it-down Virginia, North Carolina imposed its will – and preferred playing style – in a 93-81 victory at the Smith Center on Saturday.
P.J. Hairston, the sophomore guard who started for the second consecutive game, led the Tar Heels (17-8, 7-5 ACC) with a career-high 29 points. Marcus Paige added 17 for the Heels, who shot 49.2 percent and made 13 3-pointers – the most they’ve made in an ACC game this season.
Virginia (18-7, 8-4), an aggressive defensive team that takes its time on offense, hadn’t allowed an opponent to score more than 69 points this season. UNC had that many with about nine minutes to play on Saturday. With more than 15 minutes remaining, the Tar Heels had already eclipsed the 52 points they scored in a loss at Virginia in early January.
The victory was an important one for UNC. Both the Cavaliers and Tar Heels found themselves on the NCAA tournament bubble entering Saturday, and UNC’s victory could make a difference come selection Sunday.
Unlike in the first meeting between these teams, the Tar Heels successfully controlled the tempo and played the game at their preferred fast pace. For a while it didn’t seem like they’d be able to do that, though.
Virginia controlled the early part of the first half, and led by as many as 10 points with about 12 minutes remaining before halftime. From there, though, UNC went on an 8-0 run to get back into the game, and the Heels controlled much of the rest of the half.
They took their first lead, 31-30, on a James Michael McAdoo jump shot after an offensive rebound. P.J. Hairston, who made six of his 12 3-point attempts, made a pair of 3-pointers on consecutive possessions after Virginia tied it, but the Cavaliers didn’t go away easily.
Jontel Evans, the Cavs’ point guard, made a running 30-footer as the halftime buzzer sounded that tied the game at 40. After halftime, though, the Heels took control for good. They scored the first eight points of the second half, and Virginia never cut the Heels’ lead to less than five.
The Tar Heels led by as many as 18 points during the second half, and maintained a comfortable lead in large part because of their 3-point shooting. UNC’s 13 3s were its most since it made 13 during a 97-63 victory against McNeese State on Dec. 22.
Virginia, led by 27 points from Joe Harris, hadn’t allowed 93 points since a 106-63 loss against Washington in November 2010. UNC shot 55.2 percent in the second half, and made seven of its 11 3-point attempts.