Not expecting much push back, North Carolina went to Raleigh last Wednesday and put away N.C. State 97-73 in what would spell the end for Wolfpack head coach Mark Gottfried. He would be fired the next day after going 3-11 so far in the Atlantic …
North Carolina's Justin Jackson (44) drives between Virginia's Ty Jerome (11) and Jarred Reuter (31) during the first half of Sunday’s game in Chapel Hill. Jackson scored 20 points in the Tar Heels’ 65-41 win, the 14th time he has reached that plateau in a game this season.
North Carolina's Kennedy Meeks (3) blocks a shot by Virginia's Isaiah Wilkins during the second half of Saturday’s game in Chapel Hill. North Carolina won 65-41, the second-fewest points allowed by a UNC team in its Smith Center.
By Ross Martin
Special to the Times
Not expecting much push back, North Carolina went to Raleigh last Wednesday and put away N.C. State 97-73 in what would spell the end for Wolfpack head coach Mark Gottfried. He would be fired the next day after going 3-11 so far in the Atlantic Coast Conference this season despite high expectations. N.C. State dropped both games to the Tar Heels this year by a combined 75 points.
Saturday’s matchup between No. 10 UNC and No. 14 Virginia was set up to be a big one. ESPN’s GameDay crew was in town and Chapel Hill was buzzing with the feeling of a contest of big consequence. Justin Jackson’s 18 points in the first put an end to any taste of a close game as a Carolina extended a halftime lead of 12 to a 24-point beatdown, 65-41.
That’s right 41.
The Cavaliers, who dropped to No. 18 when the new Associated Press Top 25 came out Monday, couldn’t make much of anything. They shot 27.8 percent from the field and just 10.0 percent from 3-point range. UNC head coach Roy Williams didn’t think it was Carolna’s defense as much as it was the Cavaliers just missing shots.
“We were playing pretty well defensively sometimes and sometimes they got wide-open shots and they just didn’t go in,” Williams said after the game. “I think we had a sense of urgency defensively, but I don’t think we were near as good as the statistics will look like.”
Regardless of Roy’s opinion of UNC’s defense it was still quite the performance. Forty-one points is the the fewest by an opponent in the Smith Center since Clemson scored 39 in 1995. It is also the fewest allowed by the Tar Heels in Williams’ 14 seasons as head coach.
JACKSON CONTINUES TO ROLL
Jackson’s 20 points on Saturday against Virginia was the 15th time this season that the junior has led UNC in scoring. He has scored 20 or more points 14 times.
Jackson made four 3-pointers, the ninth time this year he made four or more treys in a game — he did that once in his first two seasons.
After 28 games, Jackson is averaging 18.6 points while shooting 46.1 percent from the field and 39.4 percent from behind the arc. He is seventh in the ACC in points per game and second in 3-pointers made.
Jackson is all but a shoo-in for All-ACC first-team honors and a likely candidate for an All-American team.
PREPPING FOR HOME STRETCH
The Tar Heels are ranked No. 8 in the new AP Top 25 poll, setting up an enticing top-10 matchup with No. 7 Louisville on Wednesday in Chapel Hill.
After the Cardinals, UNC visit Pittsburgh (Saturday) and Virginia (Monday). Then comes the rematch with Duke on March 4 in Chapel Hill to close out the regular season.
As of Monday, ESPN’s Joe Lunardi has North Carolina as a No. 1 seed in the South Region of the NCAA Tournament. What happens over the next four games, especially the big contests against Louisville and Duke, will have huge March Madness ramifications.
TWO FORMER STARS HONORED
Former UNC stars Marcus Paige and Brice Johnson were honored at halftime of the Virginia game. While their jerseys have been resting in the Dean Dome rafters all season, this was the official ceremony for the incredible achievement. Paige and Johnson become the 50th and 51st Tar Heel players whose jersey numbers hang in the rafters of the Dean E. Smith Center.
Johnson was an unanimous All-American following the 2015-2016 season and Marcus Paige was a Second Team All-American in 2013-2014.
TOP RECRUIT VISITS CHAPEL HILL
The big recruiting news over the weekend was that 247Sports Composite five-star small forward Kevin Knox was at UNC for his official visit. This was Knox’s fourth and final official visit. Along with the Tar Heels, Knox is also considering Duke, Florida State and Kentucky.
Knox is the No. 2 small forward and the No. 8 overall prospect in the country per the 247Sports Composite rankings.
The 6-foot-8 Florida native is expected to make a decision in the first two weeks of April.
Ross Martin covers North Carolina basketball, football and recruiting for 247Sports.com and CBS Sports. Check out more of his work at northcarolina.247sports.com.