CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (AP) – Joe Harris and Virginia led North Carolina by nine at halftime on Monday night, and went into the locker room feeling lousy about the way they had played, and fortunate to be in front.
They fixed it after the intermission, quickly building their lead to 15 points. They never allowed the Tar Heels to get back within single digits and sent them to another Atlantic Coast Conference loss, 76-61 at John Paul Jones Arena.
“We didn’t come out and play very well at all,” Harris said of the opening 20 minutes, which nonetheless ended with the Cavaliers ahead 38-29. “There were a lot of breakdowns we had defensively and we were a little sped up on offense. Even though we were winning in the first half, we didn’t feel very good about it.”
Virginia finished the half on a 12-2 run. And when the Cavaliers scored 10 of the first 14 points of the second half, building their advantage to 48-33, they had plenty of cushion to cruise to victory.
“The second half was a lot better,” Harris said.
Malcolm Brogdon and Harris scored 16 points each and Justin Anderson had 13 for the Cavaliers (14-5, 5-1), who continued their best start in ACC play since the 1994-95 team also opened 5-1. Moreover, two of the wins this season have come in three tries on the road.
“We’re feeling good right now,” senior forward Akil Mitchell said. “We’re on a roll and as long as we keep sticking to what we do, we’ve got a good team and we know we can be good.”
Kennedy Meeks scored 15 points and James Michael McAdoo had 11 for North Carolina (11-7, 1-4). The Tar Heels avoided the first 0-4 ACC start in team history by beating Boston College in their last game, but trailed almost throughout against the Cavaliers.
“The easiest way to put it is the more efficient team won the game,” Tar Heels coach Roy Williams said, lamenting his team’s inability to turn offensive rebounds into points.
North Carolina grabbed nine offensive rebounds in the first half, when it largely got the better of Virginia, but was able to convert them into just four points, missing often from in close.
“We’ve got to be more attentive to finishing the play instead of worrying about getting fouled,” Williams said.
Harris made a trio of 3-pointers in the first 3:14, and even though his next field goal came with just 2:28 remaining, the fast start opened things up for everyone else.
“Joe takes all the attention and makes it easier for everybody, makes it easier for our offense to flow,” said Brogdon, who also had six rebounds and three steals.
London Perrantes added eight points and nine assists for Virginia, and Akil Mitchell had 11 rebounds.
The Cavaliers shot 50 percent from the field until the final minute, when coach Tony Bennett made wholesale lineup changes
Virginia also turned 11 Tar Heels turnovers into 17 points and shot 49 percent (26-54).
The Cavaliers led 38-29 at halftime and started the second half on a 10-4 run, extending their burst spanning the halves to 22-6. Mike Tobey, who did not score in a foul-plagued first half, had six of the points after the break.
The Tar Heels closed to within 12 several times, and then got within 60-49 on McAdoo’s tip-in with 9:05 to play. But Brogdon beat the shot clock with a jumper from 15 feet, McAdoo missed a pair of free throws and Mitchell’s driving basket pushed the lead back to 15, and it was more than enough.
The first half was close throughout until Virginia closed it with a 12-2 run to open a 38-29 lead.
Brogdon made a three-point play with 1:57 left and the freshman Perrantes, who had a career-best eight assists by halftime, swished a 3-pointer from the left corner with 27 seconds remaining.