GREENSBORO, N.C. — Jayden Gardner had 17 points and 10 rebounds, and No. 13 Virginia dealt a damaging blow to North Carolina’s already shaky NCAA Tournament hopes, beating the Tar Heels 68-59 in the Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament quarterfinals on Thursday night.
Reece Beekman added 15 points, five assists and five steals for the second-seeded Cavaliers (24-6), who finally wrestled away control of the game with a 9-0 run in the final two minutes after the Tar Heels had cut a 10-point deficit to 57-55. Much of that production came at the foul line, where the Cavaliers made 9 of 10 as UNC finally ran out of gas.
R.J. Davis scored 24 points to lead the Tar Heels (20-13), who shot just 35.8% to lose for the second time in three meetings with the Cavaliers.
Virginia big man Kadin Shedrick put the final touches on the win, swatting away Davis’ driving layup at one end and then sprinting the floor to take a feed from Armaan Franklin for a two-handed dunk with 27 seconds left.
Shedrick, who did not play in the previous two games, had five blocked shots while being pressed into a larger role due to an injury to starting forward Ben Vander Plas.
Franklin finished with 14 points for Virginia, which scored on 13 of 16 possessions coming out of halftime and stretched its lead to 10 points on three occasions. The Cavaliers shot 58.3% in the second half.
UNC also continued a season-long trend of struggling to hit outside shots, making 8 of 27 3-point attempts.
UNC: The Tar Heels entered Thursday’s quarterfinal with a 1-8 record in the Quadrant 1 games that top an NCAA Tournament resume, with the lone win coming at home against the Cavaliers on Feb. 25 – and that one hovering on the line to fall into Quadrant 2 territory. This game – considered a neutral-court setting despite being roughly an hour from the Chapel Hill campus – ended up as a huge missed opportunity for a program that reached the national title game last year.
Virginia: The Cavaliers had lost at Boston College and at UNC before regrouping with wins against Clemson and Louisville to close out the schedule and clinch a share of the ACC regular-season title. Coach Tony Bennett had said the last two games were “a step in the right direction” in terms of “the right kind of tenacity,” and his team showed it in repeatedly turning back second-half pushes by the Tar Heels.
Virginia took a hit before even taking the court in Greensboro, with the school announcing that Vander Plas would miss the rest of the season with a broken right hand suffered in practice Wednesday.
That led the Cavaliers to give 7-foot-1 redshirt senior Francisco Caffaro his first start of the season and more minutes for Shedrick against All-ACC big man Armando Bacot.
Bacot, hobbled by an ankle injury from Wednesday’s second-round win against Boston College, never found much space against frequent double teams and was a non-factor (four points, three rebounds).
UNC: Awaits its NCAA Tournament fate.
Virginia: Will play the North Carolina State-Clemson winner in Friday’s semifinals.
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