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January 8, 2011CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. - North Carolina was confident it was ready for ACC play.
The Tar Heels weren't exactly right in their assessment, but they managed to beat Virginia nonetheless.
UNC snuck out of John Paul Jones Arena with a 62-56 win, the second-fewest points in a victory for Carolina under coach Roy Williams.
"I feel I've been inside the cookie jar and the cookie store and I stole every cookie out of the jar and stole every cookie out of the store, and I want to get out of town as fast as I can," Williams said. "It was one of the ugliest Ws I've ever been involved with."
From midway through the first half until midway through the second, the Tar Heels (11-4, 1-0 in the ACC) were a disaster on offense and trailed by as many as 11 points.
But a late surge prevented Carolina from starting off their conference slate with a loss, and the Heels were happy to take that over the alternative
"This team is a lot tougher than last year," said Tyler Zeller, who led UNC with 12 points.
After trailing since the final minutes of the first half, Carolina stayed close and finally retook the lead when John Henson drove and put in a finger roll with 3:12 remaining in the game to make it 52-50.
That shot capped an 8-0 run for the Tar Heels over a three-minute stretch, and UNC never trailed again.
Virginia's Jontel Evans missed a layup, contested by Zeller, with 11 seconds to go and UNC up 58-56.
From there, Carolina knocked down free throws to finish off the game, hitting 14 of its final 16 tries from the line.
The rest of their shooting, however, wasn't nearly so impressive.
Carolina shot 26.9 percent in the second half, managing just seven field goals.
The good news for the Tar Heels was that the Cavaliers (10-6, 1-1) were even worse, shooting 26.1 percent in the second half and scoring just nine points over the final 10 minutes of the game.
"Had we lost this game, it would've been ugly for us," point guard Larry Drew II said. "Nobody was thinking of losing."
The Tar Heels, who were up as many as nine points early in the game, went without a field goal for nearly a nine-minute stretch spanning the first and second halves, allowing the Cavaliers to build a double-digit lead.
After Leslie McDonald scored on fast break just inside the four-minute mark of the first half, Carolina didn't get another bucket until Zeller bounced in a basket nearly five minutes into the second half.
"Unfortunately, it's not the first time we've done that," Zeller said. "So we knew at that point in time that we had to defend better."
Given that scoring ineptitude, the Tar Heels were lucky to be down only eight points after Zeller's bucket.
The game could have easily been out of reach if Virginia, which used a 16-2 run to take a seven-point halftime lead, had been able to score in the second.
"We can't have those lapses in the middle of the game where we don't do much of anything," Zeller said.
The Tar Heels were talking before the game about how they were brimming with confidence compared to last year at this time.
Between that and having class-free week with nothing to do but prepare for this game, it seemed like Carolina should have been ready to start conference play with a prettier performance.
Apparently, they weren't.
But the ugly win served its own purpose in telling Williams where his team is in comparison to last season, when the Heels won their opener but lost seven of the next eight games.
"There was more toughness today than I've seen in a long time," Williams said. "Last year's team didn't show that toughness."
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