By Adam Lucas
CHARLOTTESVILLE—Joel Berry II was presented with a variety of explanations for Carolina’s 53-43 defeat at Virginia on Monday night. Perhaps it was poor shooting, or Justin Jackson’s rough night, or the tough Cavalier defense.
Berry allowed that all of those played a role. “But we had those turnovers,” he said. “They got 18 (he actually said 19; it was really 18, but when you’re giving up nearly 20 points off turnovers in a half, the exact figure isn’t particularly important) points off turnovers. That’s all there is to it. If you take those away, we’re in the ballgame.”
There was also, of course, a 3-for-10 night from Justin Jackson, who was well defended by London Perrantes for the entire evening. Jackson airballed his very first shot and never got into a rhythm. “He stayed attached and made it as hard as possible,” Jackson said of Perrantes. “It was a great scheme to get a smaller guy to get a little more aggressively into me. It was a different look.”
Because of that look, perhaps Berry felt he had to carry more of the scoring burden. With 12 points, he was the only Tar Heel in double figures, so that hypothesis was suggested to him.
“Sometimes,” he said. “But I felt like honestly in the first half it was those turnovers and the points off turnovers. That’s really what put us in the hole.”
The turnovers occasionally came in bunches, including four on five possessions after the game was tied at 21 in the first half. The Tar Heels threw errant passes, they committed offensive fouls, and they allowed the Cavaliers to swipe the ball away. The dozen first half turnovers were more than the Tar Heels averaged for an entire game coming into the evening. The figure was made worse by Virginia’s slow pace, which limited possessions and meant Carolina turned the ball over on 40 percent of its possessions in the first half.
It's pretty simple: Virginia got 18 points off the 12 Tar Heel miscues in the first half. That means in the same half, they scored just nine points on possessions that weren't preceded by a turnover. There's your game.
The lack of offensive rhythm and Virginia’s clogging defense made it extremely difficult for UNC to consistently get the ball inside. The post trio of Kennedy Meeks, Isaiah Hicks and Tony Bradley took a combined zero free throws.
So, Berry was asked, it must have been hard to get into the offense with it being so difficult to get the ball into the paint. By now, you can probably guess what he wanted to talk about.
“We came in averaging 11 turnovers a game and we had 12 in the first half,” he said. “In the second half, we only had two, and it was a one-point game. I sound repetitive, but you take those turnovers away and take away the points off turnovers…”
Unfortunately, you can’t take them away. They built a big enough cushion for the Cavs that the home team managed to win while making only three two-point baskets in the second half. Virginia’s offense needed a little boost, a little spark, and the Tar Heels provided it by committing the rash of turnovers. The Cavalier offense isn’t really built to go on runs, but when the other team coughs it up before a shot is attempted, it can happen.
From courtside, an observation: the Tar Heels looked tired. They were a step slow to loose balls, they weren’t as active defensively, and they were beaten for rebounds they would usually corral. Sure, they’re college athletes in perhaps the best shape of their entire lives. But it’s not about being tired as in sleepy. It’s about travel fatigue, and taking four flights in 72 hours, and having the normal recovery process interrupted, and all of those things you don’t want to hear about because you might say they're excuses. But they’re also all true.
It probably doesn’t surprise you to learn that Joel Berry didn’t want to hear any of that reasoning. He’d just been part of an offense that turned it over on 40 percent of its possessions in one half.
“You always have more intensity in front of your home crowd,” he said. “You make a big hot and have the crowd behind you, and that makes you move a little better on defense.” Without taking a breath, Berry kept talking, “It was just,” he said, “that we had those turnovers in the first half. That’s what put us in a hole from the start. That’s all there is to it.”
The Tar Heels still have a share of the regular season crown. Duke comes to town Saturday. By 8 p.m. on Saturday night, you won’t remember a single detail of this loss.
Except, perhaps, for those turnovers.