CHAPEL HILL, N.C. -- Tyler Zeller spent the two days after
North Carolina's last-second loss to its fiercest rival keeping a
low profile in the back of class, not watching television and
avoiding going out in public any more than necessary.
Getting back on the court against a ranked opponent turned out
to be the best remedy for easing that pain.
The 7-foot senior had 25 points and nine rebounds to help the
fifth-ranked Tar Heels beat Virginia Virginia (No. 20 ESPN/USA Today, No. 19 AP) on Saturday 70-52 and
regroup from their stunning loss to Duke.
Zeller had 23 points and 11 rebounds against the Blue Devils on
Wednesday night. But his frustrating final minute included a pair
of missed free throws, accidentally tipping a ball into the Duke
basket on a rebound attempt and defending the game-winning
3-pointer by freshman Austin Rivers.
"I have a tendency to take a lot of losses hard, especially
when you miss two free throws that could've won it," Zeller said.
"I tried to deal with it the best way possible. ... I felt bad. I
think all of my teammates also felt bad, so it's something where we
were trying to bounce back as well as possible today."
The Tar Heels (21-4, 8-2 Atlantic Coast Conference) used a 22-5
run to take control in the second half, with Zeller scoring seven
during the spurt that pushed the Tar Heels to a 15-point lead with
6½ minutes left.
The Cavaliers (19-5, 6-4) got no closer than 11 points again,
with the Tar Heels avoiding any kind of repeat of blowing a
double-digit lead in the final 2½ minutes against the Blue Devils.
Zeller was 1 for 6 from the floor in the first nine minutes, but
made 8 of 10 shots the rest of the game despite facing constant
double teams from the stingy Virginia defense. He also kicked the
ball out to set up Reggie Bullock's 3-pointer -- UNC's only made 3
in 10 tries - near the end of the clinching run.
"When he wasn't making shots, he was kicking it out to the open
guys," Virginia's Joe Harris said. "Not a lot of posts can pass
like he can. We were coming quick and that's the pass we want him
to make. But with his size and basketball sense, he was able to
make the straight-line pass to the opposite wing - which makes it
really tough for our defense to scramble back and get back on our
Zeller earned a standing ovation from fans when he came out with
1:42 left. It was as though everyone knew Zeller needed this day,
from the teammates who took up for him after the past two games to
whoever scribbled "Believe in Zeller" in chalk on a sidewalk
outside the Smith Center.
"Z's fine," said John Henson, who had 10 points and 10
rebounds. "He took it a little rough, but it was a team thing and
without him I don't even think we would've been in that game to be
Coach Roy Williams said he talked with Zeller to try to cheer
him up Thursday night.
"He's a very sensitive kid," Williams said. "It was tough on
him. People were tough on him -- very, very, very unfairly. ... He's
playing big-time basketball for us."
Harrison Barnes added 14 points and 11 rebounds for the Tar
Heels, who shot just 35 percent. But they took a 52-32 rebounding
advantage with 23 offensive boards. They scored 23 second-chance
points, their best total in an ACC game this year.
Mike Scott scored 18 points to lead the Cavaliers and Jontel
Evans added 12. Virginia shot 36 percent overall, but went six
minutes without a basket during the 22-5 run and managed just eight
field goals after halftime.
Compare that to the first 15 minutes, when Virginia shot 50
percent and twice built seven-point leads.
"I thought we got -- soft's not the right word -- but we didn't
have the same kind of toughness and focus that was required and
that we had early," Virginia coach Tony Bennett said. "We have to
learn to play in that situation. We went cold, and that certainly
North Carolina was short-handed for this one with freshman
reserve P.J. Hairston out with a sore left foot. Freshman forward
James Michael McAdoo played well in a larger role, finishing with
nine points and seven rebounds off the bench in 18 minutes.
With the win, Williams earned his 664th career victory to tie
UCLA's John Wooden for 23rd place in Division I men's basketball
Former Kentucky guard Ed Davender, the only Wildcat with at least 1,500 points and 400 assists, has died. He was 49.
Guard Naz Mitrou-Long, whose 2015-16 season ended in December due to hip problems, has been granted a hardship waiver for the coming season, Iowa State said.
As the Sooners look to life without superstar Buddy Hield and his sidekicks, it's clear their unseasoned players will need to grow up fast.