Exhausted, Frazzled ‘Hoos Fall to UNC

Some site news: I’m excited to announce that, for the foreseeable future (or until Brad tells me I can’t say things like “kicked in the dick” in pieces on his site), my postgame pieces have moved to CavsCorner.com.

Brad and his site have been a long time ally for this site and to the Hard Hedge, so working together feels good. This won’t change anything for you, the reader, unless you want to subscribe to his message board and tell the other subscribers I’m right.

This piece was originally posted on CavsCorner.com. Wallow in last night’s misery here.

I’ve got good news and bad news. The good news? The roughest part of the 2017 schedule (eight games against teams ranked in Ken Pomeroy’s top 50, with the five of them coming on the road including visits to both participants in last year’s National Championship game) is over. The bad news is that, with a 65–41 loss to UNC, it ended at 3–5 with a resounding thud.

The loss marks the fewest points Virginia has scored since a 48–38 loss to Wisconsin in 2013, the most we’ve lost by since the infamous 35-point loss to Tennessee the same month, and the first time we’ve lost three straight games since falling to Miami, Florida State, and Duke in February of 2011.

The above is a depressing stat on a few levels: for one, the offense was miserable, and for two, Virginia’s defense has held an ACC opponent to that total or lower in three of the last four seasons and it hurts to be on the opposite end.

It was bad. Carolina poured it on, like high school kids torturing an eighth-grader they let play pickup. The score was 8–5 Virginia at the 15:19 mark of the first after London Perrantes hit Isaiah Wilkins for a layup, and if that’s when your DirecTV cut out, you had a better Saturday night than most of us. UNC would go on a 22–5 run over the next 10 minutes that was punctuated by a resistance-free Isaiah Hicks dunk, and the game felt over — not so much because of the score or the time remaining, but by how easy Hicks went in for the stuff. The gap narrowed to 34–25 in the opening minute of the second half, but a 17–4 UNC run (ended by yet another Hicks dunk) bumped the lead over 20 and ended things for real.

Those score markers are all just arbitrary judgements I set in the recap, because the truth is that you’re never really in a game like this against a team this good when you don’t make shots. Virginia didn’t: we shot 33% (8–24) in the first half, 23% (7–30) in the second, and missed our first 18 threes, failing to connect until London Perrantes knocked one in to cut the deficit to 25. We needed strong efforts from a handful of players to win a game like this, but the guard crew of Devon Hall, Kyle Guy, Ty Jerome, and Darius Thompson combined to make one of 22 shots, miss all 12 of their three point tries, and score just three points. Marial Shayok scored 13, which looks good and feels promising until you realize that more than half of them came in the last 6:30 when UNC’s margin was comfortably into the twenties.

For all of the cringeworthy dunks UNC hammered home and the show Justin Jackson put on in the first half (the latest tall wing to gash Virginia, he hit four threes and scored 18 of his 20 points in the frame), the ‘Heels only scored 65 points and 1.03 points per possession and brought in just 25.9% of their own misses (10 offensive boards). Those aren’t great numbers, but they’re numbers you can win with. It wasn’t a bad defensive performance so much as it just lacked life. The offense — which managed 0.66 points per possession, their lowest such showing since the aforementioned loss to Wisconsin — was again to blame, struggling again to bring the guards off of screens and seeing them struggle to make shots if they did.

London Perrantes looks exhausted. I don’t know if it’s the cumulative toll of assuming the ill-fitting role of go-to guy for the entire season or the extra stress of doing so during this stretch, but he looks spent. His jumpers are all arms right now. Tonight, he airballed two jumpers and shot three for 10 from the floor. For the last seven games, he’s at 35.3% overall and 27.9% from the three point line, numbers that lead to increasing concern when he’s supposed to be the guy that can get this team a basket.

It’s hard to glean many positives from this, but Mamadi Diakite (two points, two rebounds, an assist, a steal, and three blocks in 15 minutes) again made an impact in his time on the floor. Diakite has played double-digit minutes in five straight games and has 12 blocks in 80 minutes over that stretch. Now, he just needs more involvement in the offense; he’s attempted one shot (one!) in his last 38 minutes.

It was easy to call this one a loss well ahead of time: it was a road game against a good team with a beefy interior (check Virginia weakness number one) and a wing that can shoot (check weakness number two), just 72 hours after our latest dispiriting loss. I can deal with that. I can’t deal with people saying the season is over after losses to the defending national champion, a hated rival in double OT, a hot team on the road, the most talented team in the ACC, and what is probably the best team in the ACC. This has been a brutal stretch that would have dealt similar results to a lot of good teams.

While the last three weeks have dealt us more losses than we’re used to, it’s been a while since anyone expected for this group to be as good as the teams that won 89 games over the last three years. These things happen. The season will be over if Virginia can’t take care of business against the Miamis, NC States, and (gulp) Pitts of the world over the next two weeks. I’m disappointed, but I’m not giving up yet.

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