Three Key Takeaways:
- North Carolina’s defense was tremendous, as it was all tournament long in Washington. Marcus Paige was mostly tasked with guarding Malcolm Brogdon (along with Kenny Williams, of all people) and held him to 15 points on 22 shots including only one trip to the foul line. After the game, Brogdon gave North Carolina credit for flooding the lane when he drove, but he also took a lot of responsibility for the poor performance. For his part, Roy Williams called Paige one of the five best defensive guards he’s ever coached. Looking past Brogdon, London Perrantes also struggled shooting with Joel Berry smothering him (he finished 3-of-14 from the field). The Cavaliers did a great job on the offensive boards, but couldn’t convert enough of those to second chance points.
- In the first 13 minutes of the game, North Carolina committed eight turnovers on 19 possessions. They were careless with the ball in the post, often trying to make passes that weren’t there. And while Virginia didn’t light up the scoreboard off of those turnovers, they led to a lot of extra shots. Some post turnovers are inevitable against Virginia — especially considering the Tar Heels’ love of quick post passes — but once North Carolina started hitting some jump shots, their post players started playing better with the ball.
- There’s not much Virginia should take away from tonight’s game because the Cavaliers controlled the tempo and dominated the offensive boards. Roy Williams was asked what he thought North Carolina’s chances would be if they had been killed on the glass and didn’t make their threes: “Zero,” he responded. The more I reflect on the game, the more it felt like this was Virginia’s game to win. That shouldn’t take away from what North Carolina accomplished here, but Virginia played a near-perfect game apart from missing its jump shots. One game sample sizes are cruel bedfellows, but don’t use this game to say that Tony Bennett’s team can’t win the NCAA Tournament over the next several weeks.
Star of the Game: It’s tough to choose, but Joel Berry was North Carolina’s difference-maker this whole tournament. As he’s evolved into a backcourt leader, the Heels have started taking on his persona as a team. They have more of an edge than they did at the start of the year, and a lot of the credit for that change in character should go to Berry. He plays for contact and isn’t scared of tough jump shots. Against Pittsburgh, Berry put the team on his back when their shots weren’t falling. Against Virginia, Berry hit the shot to take the lead for good along with a dagger three and four free throws to ice the game. Tonight, his defense and 19 points carried the day.