No. 5 North Carolina 70, No. 19 Virginia 52

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 No. 19 Virginia 70-52 on Saturday 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

6 1/2 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 2 1/2 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

guys.”

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

honest.”

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

affected us.”

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

history.