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UNC basketball struggles offensively again in 56-47 loss to Virginia

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It was as ugly as it sounds.

NCAA Basketball: North Carolina at Virginia Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

The Heels traveled to Charlottesville for their first regular season match-up against Virginia, hoping to break a four-game losing streak to the Cavaliers. They even got an early Christmas miracle when Armando Bacot was announced as a starter. Bacot was expected to miss significant time after leaving Wednesday's game against Ohio State early with what was thought to be a severely sprained ankle. The miracle didn’t quite result in a victory. UNC will now try to break a five-game losing streak when these two teams meet again in February after UVA earned a slow-paced rock fight 56-47 victory.

It became painfully obvious what kind of affair this was going to be when neither team scored for the first 2:27 of the game. After UNC missed their first three field goal attempts and UVA committed three turnovers, Garrison Brooks got the party started with a 17-foot jumper. That opening sequence was a microcosm of the entire game.

Plagued by turnovers, extremely loose officiating and poor shooting, the score skyrocketed to a 5-5 stalemate at the under-12:00 media timeout. Virginia then scored 7 straight points to take a 12-7 lead thanks to back-to-back three pointers by Casey Morsell and Tomas Woldentensae. North Carolina eventually cut the deficit to 17-16, but couldn’t get closer. Virginia used 7-2 run in the final 1:47 to take a 24-18 lead into the locker room.

At the half, UNC was 7-23 from the field, 0-8 from three, and just 4-9 from the foul line. Virginia wasn’t much better, hitting 8-25 from the field. The difference was their ability to conect from deep (4-9) and from the line (4-6). The teams combined for 17 turnovers in the opening period.

The second half was only slightly better.

Both teams came out shooting more efficiently, and Virginia took a 33-29 lead into the under-16:00 media timeout. The Hoos were 3-6 from the floor in those opening minutes, while UNC was 4-7. Compared to the first half, it was an offensive explosion.

Then in a scene reminscent of last Wednesday when Ohio State took a 39-36 lead into the media timeout and went on a 12-2 run, the Heels’ offense disappeared. UVA pushed heir lead to 39-31 over the next four minutes. A combination of ill-advised three-point attempts, missed shots at the rim, and an inability (or unwillingness) to feed the post fueled their troubles. It only got worse.

Against most teams, an eight-point deficit is not cause for concern. For this UNC team, though, eight points often feels like 18. Against Virginia, it might as well be a 30-point deficit. The Heels never got closer than 39-35 the rest of the way. The “let’em play” officiating from the first half disappeared and Virginia rode hot foul shooting, going 18-25 from the line for the game, to pull away. That included six free throws in a row to push that 39-35 lead to 45-35.

Those free throws started a 16-3 run where UNC failed to score a field-goal for seven minutes and 36 seconds. 10 of those 16 points came from the foul line. By the time Cole Anthony finally hit a field goal with three minutes remaining, Virginia had slowly and steadily built a 55-40 lead.

As has been the case all season, turnovers and foul-shooting hampered UNC’s chances of keeping this game close. They finished just 12-22 from the line, and committed 12 turnovers in just 58 possessions. Those numbers usually guarantee defeat in Charlottesville.

Anthony paced the Heels with 12 points and 4 rebounds, though he arguably had his worst game as a Tar Heel. Six turnovers and zero assists complemented a 4-for-15 effort from the field.

Bacot finished with 11 points, but just two rebounds. Garrison Brooks added six points and eight rebounds.

Of note, freshmen guards Anthony Harris and Jeremiah Francis both saw their first action of their careers. Harris hasn’t played since tearing his ACL last year, and Francis has not played in over two years following multiple knee surgeries. If they can get acclimated, both players will give some much needed depth on the perimeter.

North Carolina finished just 37% from from the floor (17-46), a paltry 7.1% from three (1-14), and 45.5% from from the line,. They were outrebounded 37-32 but did win the battle in the paint 24-16.

North Carolina returns to action against Wofford next Saturday. The loss drops their record to 6-3 (1-1, ACC).