Hoos Hold Off Heels, No. 13 Virginia Downs North Carolina 65-58

Hoos Hold Off Heels, No. 13 Virginia Downs North Carolina 65-58

Updated: 2 months, 16 days, 9 hours, 21 minutes, 53 seconds ago

It has been a decade since the North Carolina Tar Heels last defeated the Virginia Cavaliers at John Paul Jones Arena. 

UVA trailed UNC by as many as nine points, but behind notable performances from newcomers Ben Vander Plas and Isaac McKneely and a number of clutch plays in the final minutes of the game, No. 13 Virginia managed to hold off North Carolina 65-58 on Tuesday night at John Paul Jones Arena, extending UVA's home-winning streak over the Tar Heels to eight games. 

After suffering a pair of one-sided losses to the Tar Heels last season, the Cavaliers were eager for some payback this time around. Things looked good on that front early on as UVA jumped out to a 5-0 lead, held UNC scoreless for the first five minutes of the game, and North Carolina's star center Armando Bacot, the presumptive favorite to win ACC Player of the Year, went down with an ankle injury on UNC's first possession of the game and did not return. Bacot had scored 20+ points in his last six games, so his loss dealt a massive blow to the Tar Heels. 

Meanwhile, Reece Beekman, who looked very close to 100% healthy for the first time in weeks, scored seven-straight for the Cavaliers to help UVA build a 10-3 lead. Basketball is a game of runs, though, and this game was no exception. 

After starting 0/6 from the floor, the Tar Heels made 7/12 as they fired back with a 9-0 run to take the lead as UVA endured a lengthy scoring drought. Little-used freshman forward Jalen Washington gave UNC a massive lift in Bacot's absence, scoring 12 points in the first half. Junior RJ Davis was also pivotal for North Carolina in the first half and throughout the game, leading the Tar Heels in scoring with 16 points. 

Isaac McKneely brought Virginia's drought to an end with a three-pointer, but then briefly left the game after catching an elbow to the face on the next possession. North Carolina proceeded to add to the scoring streak with seven more points to build a 19-13 lead and continued to keep the foot on the gas with four more points in between a Kihei Clark jumper, extending the lead to as many as nine points in the first half. 

The Cavaliers went nearly five minutes without a field goal, but managed to score five points in a row from the free throw line. After starting 1/9 from the perimeter, Ben Vander Plas knocked down a wide open bucket from three-point territory, ending the dry spell and sparking a 7-2 run to close out the half. With the shot clock turned off, the Cavaliers produced two Tar Heel turnovers leading to a layup from Clark to make the score 29-27 in favor of North Carolina at the end of the half.

UNC opened up the second half with a 5-0 run as the Cavaliers struggled to create offense once again. With Armando Bacot out for the remainder of the game, Tony Bennett and the UVA coaching staff opted to match UNC's four-guard lineup with a similar look, having Ben Vander Plas at the center spot along with Reece Beekman, Kihei Clark, Isaac McKneely, and Armaan Franklin. 

RJ Davis produced six points early in the second half, including a step-back three-pointer to give UNC a 40-35 lead. From there, Virginia went on an 11-0 run, sparked by a putback dunk from Franklin. Reece Beekman followed that up with a steal-and-score and then Ben Vander Plas knocked down a three-pointer to put UVA ahead. Vander Plas slammed home a putback dunk of his own to cap the run, after which Virginia led 46-40. 

McKneely and Vander Plas combined to score 11 points during that pivotal turning point, as Virginia put together a 17-2 surge to take a 52-42 lead. The Cavaliers would never relinquish the lead again.

Naturally, UVA eventually cooled down and North Carolina slowly crept back into the game. Caleb Love hit two clutch three-pointers in the final minutes, the second of which brought UNC back to within three points, trailing just 58-55 with 2:48 remaining. 

Then came perhaps the clutchest shot of the night, from a true freshman no less. With the shot clock winding down and Virginia facing perhaps another empty possession, Isaac McKneely pulled up from well beyond the three-point line on the left wing and buried the shot, putting the Cavaliers back up by six points with 2:21 left. 

Caleb Love again got North Carolina to within three with a three-pointer with 1:08 left, but Virginia responded with a brilliant offensive play, as Ben Vander Plas slipped a screen and popped out to the three-point line. Two UNC defenders gravitated to Vander Plas, giving Beekman the lane he needed to drive to the basket for an easy two-hand dunk. Virginia then forced a turnover as Vander Plas intercepted an inbounds pass and took it the other way for another dunk, essentially ending the game. 

That capped a spectacular performance for Ben Vander Plas, who bounced back from a lackluster first-half and scored 14 of his game-high 17 points in the second half. He also played excellent defense on Jalen Washington, who scored just a single point after halftime after leading the Tar Heels with 12 points in the opening 20 minutes. 

Isaac McKneely finished 3/4 from beyond the arc and 4/5 from the floor with 11 points, including the clutch triple which helped the Cavaliers maintain their lead. Armaan Franklin couldn't find his shooting stroke on Tuesday night, but did practically everything else for the Cavaliers, recording 12 points, nine rebounds, two assists, and three blocks. Reece Beekman also had an impressive statline, finishing with 13 points, five assists, and five steals. 

Now 12-3 and 4-2 in ACC play, Virginia will look to carry this momentum on the road at Florida State on Saturday.

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