The Virginia-North Carolina rubber match went to Virginia with a late knockout punch to the face of the Tar Heels, 68-59, that in all likelihood will send UNC packing for the wrong postseason tournament.
Carolina, sitting on the outside looking in as far as the NCAA Tournament is concerned, needed at minimum an ACC Tournament championship game appearance to go dancing. With Thursday’s loss here in the raucous Greensboro Coliseum, the Tar Heels appear headed to the NIT.
Reece Beekman had 15 points, five assists and five steals for the second-seeded Cavaliers (24-6), who finally wrestled away control of the game with a huge 9-0 run in the final two minutes after UNC had sliced a 10-point deficit to 57-55 as the Carolina fan base erupted.
Much of the Cavaliers’ final production came at the foul line, where Virginia made 9-of-10 as UNC ran out of gas.
Virginia big man Kadin Shedrick put the final touches on the win, swatting away RJ Davis’ driving layup at one end and then sprinting down the floor to take a feed from Armaan Franklin for a two-handed flush with 27 seconds left.
Yep, Kadin Shedrick, who did not play in Virginia’s two previous games, five blocked shots while being pressed into a larger role due to a season-ending injury to starting forward Ben Vander Plas.
UNC built an early 13-9 lead, but UVA responded with an 11-0 run to capture the lead, a lead that would stand to the end of the game.
Beekman’s aggressive first half, with 11 points and three assists, ignited the Cavaliers to get out in front before halftime. UVA led by as many as eight in the opening half, but a late 6-0 counter by Carolina narrowed the deficit to 25-24 at the break.
The second half was where the fun began for the Cavaliers.
North Carolina nearly erased Virginia’s lead multiple times in the second half, but never did. At each of those moments, the UNC faithful made their presence known.
But every time the lead dwindled, the Cavaliers had an answer.
And multiple UVA players did their part.
Jayden Gardner led Virginia with a 17-point, 10-rebound double-double.
Seemingly every time Carolina appeared destined to take the lead, Gardner provided the momentum breaker.
Gardner had 13 second-half points.
Virginia’s methodical approach and pinpoint ball-handling gave UNC fits. UVA, recognizing that North Carolina center Armando Bacot was hobbling with an ankle injury, began pounding the ball inside. A thunderous dunk by Shedrick with 11:25 left put the Cavaliers up 44-37, and the blueprint was obvious for the rest of the game.
After Virginia’s loss in Chapel Hill just 12 days ago, the remainder of the season was cloudy. Previously losing at Boston College before the UNC loss, the Cavaliers didn’t appear overly competitive. In fact, it was the Duke game on Feb. 11 that UVA had last played a solid game.
Fast forward to tonight here in Greensboro, and Virginia has sealed the defensive leaks, altered the lineups significantly, especially down low, and the team has that familiar look again.
And now back to Kadin Shedrick.
Tonight against the athletically gifted Tar Heels, Shedrick had perhaps the turnaround performance that will go down in Cavalier history.
Shedrick had not played since that last game against UNC nearly two weeks ago. In fact, Shedrick had played only more than 15 minutes once in the last 15 games.
Tonight, when he was called on, he answered. In 19 minutes, he scored four points and made himself a defensive force with the five blocks while playing with four fouls. Some of the fouls were questionable, but that’s life playing a game against North Carolina in the state of North Carolina.
Tonight, Shedrick answered the call. And for UNC, that may prove fatal.