CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — In his post-game comments following Virginia’s road loss at Boston College on Wednesday, coach Tony Bennett was asked about North Carolina star Armando Bacot missing most of the teams’ earlier meeting this season.
Bennett quickly cut in to note that the Tar Heels also played the game without forward Pete Nance.
Turns out, he was right to be thinking about the Northwestern transfer.
Nance scored 22 points, hitting all four of his first half 3-pointers to help send the disappointing Tar Heels to 71-63 win over UVa on Saturday, the Cavaliers’ second straight loss.
"That changes their dynamics," Bennett said afterward. "That puts a lot of pressure on your defense.”
The Tar Heels led from start to finish, despite getting no points in transition and just four second-chance points, both normally hallmarks of UNC basketball.
Virginia played better defense than it did three days ago, but could not finish at the rim and continued to struggle at the free-throw line.
UVa’s loss, combined with Pittsburgh’s win over Syracuse and Miami’s loss at the buzzer to Florida State, dropped the Cavaliers (21-6, 13-5 ACC) to third place behind the Panthers and Hurricanes.
It’s North Carolina’s third win over Virginia in the last four meetings. UVa beat the Heels 65-58 last month in Charlottesville, its only win in that span.
The Tar Heels (18-11, 10-8), the No. 1 team in the nation in the preseason, earned their first Quad 1 victory of the year after nine losses, a valuable chip as they push to make the NCAA Tournament.
R.J. Davis had 16 points and 10 rebounds for Carolina, which got three blocked shots from Nance. Bacot finished with just 11 points and six rebounds, his playing time in the second half limited by foul trouble.
Jayden Gardner scored 19 points and had 10 rebounds for Virginia, and Reece Beekman added eight points, six assists and four rebounds.
But the team missed a dozen layup attempts and also struggled, again, at the free throw line, going 4 for 10.
Still, Bennett praised his team's second half effort, particularly on the defensive end.
“All you can do is make them make the tough shots," Bennett said. "You’re not going to be flawless on the defensive end, but you just keep staying continuous and that’s why I liked our second half.”
Coming off a season-low 48 points in the loss at Boston College on Wednesday, UVa had offensive issues again in the first half at UNC.
Gardner scored eight of Virginia’s first 10 points and Ben Vander Plas kept Bacot off the score sheet for the first 14:53 of the game. But Carolina came out red-hot from 3-point range, hitting four of its first seven attempts, two by Nance, to jump out to an 18-10 lead 7:23 into the contest.
"He got going," Gardner said of Nance. "He got to his spots. Once you see a shot go in, that's how you know if you're in for a good game. I think he saw his first three go in and then hit three more. We knew he was very capable."
A big part of Virginia’s early struggles were due to the missed layups. It missed four layups in the first 12:30 of play, including two by Armaan Franklin.
"You gotta keep going," Franklin said of the missed close-range shots. "You have to. At the end of the day, you have to focus, lock in when you get to the rim."
Carolina built a 12-point lead, going up 27-15 after back-to-back 3-pointers by Puff Johnson with 5:50 to go before the break.
Bacot, who returned for his senior season with UNC after leading it the national championship game a year ago, scored his first points of the game on a pair of free throws with 5:07 left in the half, drawing a foul on Vander Plas.
His dunk with 4:12 before halftime put the Heels ahead 31-18, a margin that would get as high as 17 in the final minutes of the period.
In all, UVa shot 40% in the first half, missing five layups. Meanwhile, the Heels went 9 for 16 from beyond the 3-point line, and UNC went to the locker room up 42-26.
Virginia opened the second half with a 10-2 surge, cutting its deficit to 44-36. It had a chance to get within eight points again with 7:15 to play, but Gardner missed a layup and then a chance at a stick-back.
The Cavaliers got back within eight after a Franklin dunk with 1:36 to play made it 63-55. Virginia got it to 69-63 in the final seconds, but still dropped back-to-back ACC games for the first time this season.
Next up for UVa, a pair of home dates to close out the regular season. It hosts Clemson on Tuesday and Louisville on Saturday. The Tigers (21-8, 13-5) scored an eye-opening 96-71 win at North Carolina State on Saturday.Virginia 71, North Carolina 63
Key player: Pete Nance scored 22 points to lead the Tar Heels.