(Confetti raining down on Virginia after the win – Photo by Jason Schott)
The Virginia Cavaliers won the ACC Championship in a 71-63 victory over North Carolina on Saturday night at Barclays Center.
This is Virginia’s third ACC Championship, and second in the last five years under Head Coach Tony Bennett. They lost to UNC in the title game two years ago, so this was a measure of revenge.
Virginia, now 31-2 on the season. was the top seed in this tournament in addition to being the top-ranked team in the nation, and they are primed to be Number One overall in the NCAA Tournament.
Virginia’s 31 wins are a new program single-season record. They beat Louisville on Thursday and Clemson on Friday night to reach the title game.
For North Carolina, the defending national champion was a six-seed in the ACC Tournament, and they knocked off Syracuse, Miami, and Duke to reach the title game.
This was the sixth time Virginia and North Carolina played in the ACC title game. Virginia won the first matchup in 1976, and UNC won the next four, 1977, 1982, 1994, and 2016.
Virginia’s Kyle Guy was named the ACC Tournament MVP and he had 16 points on 7-15 from the field, including 2-4 on three-pointers, with four assists and two rebounds. Guy has reached double-figures in 27 games and has connected on 83 shots from three-point range this season. He averaged 16.3 points in Virginia’s three ACC Tournament games and went 9-17 from beyond the arc.
Devon Hall had 15 points on 3-5 shooting, 3-4 on three-pointers, 6-6 on free throws, five rebounds, and four assists. This was the 23rd time this season he has scored in double figures.
North Carolina junior forward Luke Maye led all scorers with 20 points on 7-13 from the field, including 4-7 on three-pointers. Maye scored 15 of those points in the first half, and this was the 28th time this season Maye scored in double figures. He also had seven rebounds and two assists.
UNC also got a big night from Joel Berry II, who had 17 points on 5-12 from the field, including 4-9 on three-pointers, with three assists and two rebounds. Kenny Williams had 12 points (5-8 FG, 2-5 threes), with an assist and a rebound.
After a very tough battle in the first half, Virginia had a 34-30 lead at halftime. They expanded that to 48-39 on an Isaiah Wilkins dunk at the 15:00 mark of the second half.
North Carolina responded with a 7-0 run capped by Garrison Brooks free throws that made it 48-46 Virginia at the 11:43 mark.
It wasn’t long before Virginia was back up nine, 58-49, on a De’Andre Hunter jumper with 3:34 left.
Maye pulled UNC to within five, at 63-58, with 1:06 left, but Hunter drained five straight free throws to make it a 10-point game, 68-58 Virginia with just 37 seconds left, which basically sealed the win.
In the second half, Virginia shot 47.8 percent (11-23) from the field, while UNC shot just 38.5 percent, or 10-26, overall.
Virginia Head Coach Tony Bennett said of the win, “There goes our humility. We bring the trophy with us. (He’s pictured with it above) I’m so thankful that these guys — it’s a good thing to enjoy a moment like this. If you can’t enjoy that, being with this group of guys and seeing their heart, and we weren’t perfect, but we battled, and the regular season and this means a lot. But we know that it comes from the hard work of a lot of people around us. So again, just very thankful just to see some of the plays made.
“I think when the big guy missed a shot from North Carolina, I said, well, maybe this is a sign here. He had a lay-up and missed it, and you need some of those. But both teams laid it out there, four games in four nights for them, three for us in a row. So as I said, we’re very thankful, and I usually don’t give an opening statement, but I figure after this we can give one.”
Devon Hall said of what it means to them, “I think it’s special. I think it speaks to this group and how tough we are. We’ve been battling all season, so to be able to grab this, I think it’s a special, special moment for us.”
Bennett was asked what this meant for their city after the tough times they’ve been through, “It means a lot. On the back of our jerseys, there’s a hashtag, #whostogether. And I think a basketball team embodies unity and diversity in a way that’s special. Not uniformity, unity and diversity. And I think it’s the greatest example. And like they said, there’s love here. There’s family, there’s issues we’ve got, but it’s a beautiful thing.
“It’s funny, I quoted a Psalm 133 before the game, and I said — what it says is it’s a good and precious thing when brothers dwell together in unity. It’s like a fine oil poured upon your head. That’s what I said to them before and that’s what I said after because it’s unity, and that’s what I think sets this team apart. They’re so unified. They’re so unselfish. I don’t mean to give a long answer, but I think it’s an important answer, and I think it’s a blessing to be a part of this.”
Bennett said of where this will rank when measuring the program, “Yeah, I mean, again, I’m so thankful for these guys. To win a regular season ACC, that’s the long haul. That’s big. This is tough. Of course to advance, we went to an Elite 8, almost got to a Final Four, but the NCAA Tournament, you want to do as well as you can in that. Those are the tangible things everybody judges you on.
“But I heard our former fast break coach said, ask me 20 years from now if we had a successful program and I’ll tell you, and it’ll be in what’s going on here. This is unique, what I’m seeing, and it’s a joy that I haven’t quite experienced as a coach. I’ve experienced a lot of good things and good people, but there’s a lot of good stuff going both ways.
“But we’ve got to be ready to go when it comes to that. Of course, we want to be as good as we can, but we know, like every coach said, there’s so much parity in this tournament, you get as healthy as you can, as ready as you can. And don’t over complicate it. Improve, prepare well, play to win. That’s what we have to do when we step up. And whoever it is or wherever it is, I don’t know if we have a choice on that or not.”
To the question of what is different about tournament games than those played in the regular season, Bennett said, “I mean, I think it becomes a possession game. It tightens up. I think defense is really important. Maturity is important. Just being sound — I look at this stat, and I don’t know how accurate this is, but they had three points off turnovers, 12 second chance points but two fast break points. Those are some keys, and we always talk about that.
“But yeah, you’ve got to take care of the ball. You’ve got to rebound well, and I think to advance in the tournament, and of course you’ve got to not allow people to score, and then guys have to make plays and play with the intangibles, and this team is all about the intangibles. I’ve been fortunate enough to — they showed it and they did it over the long haul in the conference, and then of course it gets tested in this, and it gets tested the next time-out.”
North Carolina Head Coach Roy Williams said of the game, “Congratulations to Virginia. Tony (Bennett) and his staff and their players. I guess it was two years ago we won the regular season and the conference tournament, and I saw Tony that spring, and he said, congratulations, that’s really, really hard to do. And I think that makes it two times for him in the last four years, so they should feel really good because I agree that it really is hard to do in this league.
“They’re really good. We felt like we had to play really, really well, and I don’t think we did that. We shoot 40 percent. We were supposed to be a great rebounding team. We only had two more rebounds than they did. But they’re 9 for 17 from three. I think (Devon) Hall and (Kyle) Guy and (Ty) Jerome and Isaiah (Wilkins), those guys are really hard to handle. Hunter coming off the bench is really, really good for them, as well. Guy made a couple of big baskets, and Isaiah made a big drive to the basket for a dunk.
“We got it to 2, (Kyle) Guy made two straight baskets, and we had one easy shot we missed, and then we had a tough shot that we missed, and then we had a turnover, and all of a sudden it goes from 2 back to 9 or 10. But not using any excuses. We played four days in a row. The first day that we played they were practicing. That’s the way the tournament is set up. It’s not playing four days in a row that’s hard, it’s playing Virginia on the last day, and they deserved what they got. But my team is getting better. We’ve got some bigger goals in front of us, and we’ll need to get back to work this week after giving them some rest.
“Joel’s (Berry) ankle has been a little beat up. Cam’s (Johnson) body is beat up. His back was hurt last night, didn’t feel very comfortable about playing him as much as I even played him today, so we’ll need a couple of days to rest. Everybody at this time of year has got small injuries, and some of them are not real small. I’m not saying that to use that as an excuse because Virginia beat our tails. That’s the bottom line.”
2018 ACC All-Tournament Team:
First Team: Kyle Guy, Virginia (MVP); Theo Pinson, North Carolina; Luke Maye, North Carolina; Devon Hall, Virginia; Marvin Bagley III, Duke
Second Team: Ty Jerome, Virginia; Joel Berry II, North Carolina; Bonzie Colson, Notre Dame; Shelton Mitchell, Clemson; Ky Bowman, Boston College.