CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — Malcolm Brogdon said he wasn’t trying to assert himself any more than usual. It just worked out that way.
Brogdon scored 17 of his 26 points in the first half and No. 3 Virginia used a 16-5 second-half run to break open a tie game and held off No. 7 North Carolina 79-74 on Saturday night, the Cavaliers’ 19th consecutive home victory.
"I just had opportunities," Brogdon said of the first half, when he made 6 of 8 shots, including a pair of 3-pointers, to help the Cavaliers to a 38-35 lead at the break. "I try to come out aggressive every game. I try to take what the defense gives me but at the same time, I try to sense when my team is struggling on offense or doing well on offense and I try to adjust my game to that."
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Anthony Gill added 15 points and London Perrantes 12 for the Cavaliers (22-6, 11-5 Atlantic Coast Conference), who moved within one game of the Tar Heels in the conference standings with two regular season games to play.
It was Brogdon who set the tone, North Carolina coach Roy Williams said, and it carried over all game long.
"Malcolm in the first half was as good a performance as we’ve had against us this year, maybe several years," he said.
After halftime, Gill led the way, scoring 11 of his points, including the last six in the run that whipped the sellout crowd, which included Virginia great Ralph Sampson, into a frenzy. After a recent scoring slump, Gill’s resurgence was a welcome sight, coach Tony Bennett said.
"We needed it all, and that’s what I like to see," he said.
Joel Berry II led the Tar Heels (23-6, 12-4) with 21 points, including five 3-pointers. Marcus Paige added 13 points and Brice Johnson and Justin Jackson each had 12, but Johnson, like Brogdon a league player of the year candidate, didn’t score for the last 17 minutes of the game.
"He got very discouraged," Williams said of the 6-foot-10 senior, who arrived averaging 17.2 points and 10.6 rebounds, but was limited to just nine field goal attempts and was guilty of five of the Tar Heels’ 13 turnovers, including one pass that went well into the crowd.
"He got discouraged at that point, too," Williams said.
The Tar Heels trailed by 11 after Virginia’s big run, but closed to within 77-74 with 14 seconds left on Paige’s 3-pointer. But North Carolina immediately fouled Devon Hall, and he made both free throws give Virginia a little cushion.
Theo Pinson then missed a pair of free throws with 5.6 seconds left for North Carolina, and the scramble for the rebound killed most of the rest of the clock, ensuring Virginia’s 34th victory in its last 35 home games.
The game was close throughout the first half and the Tar Heels pulled even at 49 on Berry’s putback with just under 14 minutes remaining. A three-point play by Marial Shayok then sparked the 16-5 run for Virginia. Brogdon hit an 18-footer and his third 3-pointer of the game in the burst, and Gill, quiet up until that point with just two baskets, had three straight baskets to put Virginia ahead 65-54.
Virginia used an 11-5 run in the first half to- open its largest lead at 29-21, but the Tar Heels answered immediately with a 14-7 burst that feature three of Berry’s four first-half 3-pointers. A layin by Isaiah Wilkins at the buzzer gave the Cavaliers a 38-35 lead at the intermission.
Williams citied two plays as particularly frustrating to see unfold.
The first was Wilkins’ layin at the buzzer of the first half, after the Tar Heels had rallied to within a point.
The second was an inbound pass with 2 seconds on the shot clock that Mike Tobey caught and then made a 16-foot jumper.
North Carolina: Has still only allowed one opponent to shoot 50 percent or better from the floor this season. Virginia finished 27 for 61 (44.3 percent). … Berry had a season-high four 3-pointers in the first half on six attempts. He finished 5 for 8 from beyond the arc.
Virginia: The Cavaliers used nine players in the first half, but the starters played all but 14 minutes.
North Carolina is at home against Syracuse on Monday night.