North Carolina vs. UVA: Tyler Zeller Keeps Tar Heels on Course for Duke Finale

Roger SagerCorrespondent IFebruary 26, 2012

Tyler Zeller finished what he started as North Carolina squeaked by Virginia.
Tyler Zeller finished what he started as North Carolina squeaked by Virginia.Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

North Carolina's Tyler Zeller started it, scoring the Tar Heels' first 10 points, and then he finished it, adding the Heels' last four, as Carolina survived three Virginia failed three-point attempts in the last 49 seconds to escape with a 54-51 win in Charlottesville.

UNC's ACC Player of the Year candidate was the only member of his team to score over the first 6:04 and the last 5:40 of the game, outscoring the Cavaliers by himself during those segments, 14-8.

In addition, he played a large role in forcing the Cavs' own Player of the Year candidate, Mike Scott, off the blocks and beyond his usual comfort zone.  Scott missed his first four shots, all mid-to-long-range jumpers, and finished with a season-low six points as he spent significant periods of time on the bench shackled with foul trouble.

The game was a clash of styles.  North Carolina came in as the NCAA's second-highest scoring team, averaging 82.9 points per game.  Virginia entered as the second-best defense, allowing just 52.1 points per game.   

The Cavaliers won the battle of tempo, but still lost the war.

North Carolina's win gave them a sweep of the season series and allowed them to remain the only ACC team to have not lost in John Paul Jones Arena since it opened.  UNC is 4-0 at JPJ.

Scott was just 1-of-7 when he accumulated his second foul with his club trailing 18-10 and 8:43 still remaining in the half.  The sell-out crowd had to be fearful of their 'Hoos losing contact with the Heels when their star sat down.

John Henson added 15 points and a game-high 11 rebounds.
John Henson added 15 points and a game-high 11 rebounds.Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Instead, five different Cavaliers responded with points in a 20-8 run to close out the first half.

The final three came on a long buzzer-beater by Sammy Zeglinski to give the Cavaliers a 30-26 halftime lead.

Zeglinski had eight of his 11 first-half points during the run and Jontel Evans chipped in another five.

Unfortunately for the Cavs, Zeglinski's long three at the buzzer would be his last points of the game.

He would be 0-for-7 from the floor in the second half, including a wide-open three when the Tar Heels lost him on an in-bounds play with just nine seconds remaining.  The shot would have tied the game.

Harrison Barnes grabbed the rebound and was fouled with three seconds left.  But he missed the front end of the one-and-one.

Virginia had one last chance but a desperation attempt at the buzzer by Jontel Evans was off the mark.

The Tar Heels, who bludgeoned Virginia on the boards in Chapel Hill, again enjoyed a huge advantage, out-rebounding the Cavaliers, 48-29. 

But while the rebounding stats were similar game-to-game, Virginia did a much better job of keeping Carolina off the offensive boards this time.  The Heels had just nine second-chance points and in fact were outscored in the paint by a 28-22 margin.

Both teams shot poorly for the game.

North Carolina was 17-of-51 and 2-of-14 from three-point range.  Virginia was 21-of-60 and, after hitting six of their first 12 three-point attempts, missed their last 11, essentially sealing their fate.

Zeller finished with a game-high 20 points and six rebounds.  His major support came from John Henson, who finished with 15 points and a game-high 11 rebounds.   Harrison Barnes added seven points (on just 3-of-15 shooting) and nine rebounds.

Virginia received balanced scoring from Jontel Evans, Joe Harris and Zeglinski with 13, 12 and 11 points respectively.  Scott led the Cavs with seven rebounds in just 22 minutes of action.

The six points by Scott snapped a 14-game streak of scoring in double figures that had included the entire ACC season.  Scott has struggled versus the Tar Heels, averaging under 10 points a game over his career.  North Carolina is the only ACC team to have held the Virginia star under a double figures average during his time as a Cavalier.

The win improved North Carolina's record in the ACC to 10-2 and kept them on course to meet Duke in a regular season-ending tilt that should decide the league champ.  The loss by Virginia leaves them a half-game up on Miami at 8-6 in the battle for the fourth and last opening-round bye in the upcoming ACC tournament.

North Carolina will face Maryland in Chapel Hill on Wednesday before closing at Duke on Saturday.  Virginia entertains Florida State on Thursday before traveling to Maryland on Saturday to finish their regular season.