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Virginia tops UNC in ACC quarterfinals

Virginia tops UNC in ACC quarterfinals


GREENSBORO, N.C. — The Virginia men’s basketball team had all but sealed a 68-59 win against North Carolina on Thursday night in the ACC tournament quarterfinals when Cavaliers center Kadin Shedrick collected a lob pass from Armaan Franklin and dunked with both hands.

The native of Holly Springs, N.C., roughly 75 miles from here, then flexed and screamed with cathartic force after punctuating the triumph that sent the second-seeded Cavaliers into Friday’s semifinals against either North Carolina State or Clemson at Greensboro Coliseum.

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Seconds earlier, Shedrick, a reserve who did not play in the previous three games, had blocked North Carolina guard RJ Davis on a drive to trigger a Virginia fast break that yielded a 66-55 lead with 27 seconds to play, underscoring contributions throughout a depleted roster.

The Cavaliers (24-6) beat No. 7 seed North Carolina for the first time in the ACC tournament despite being without starter Ben Vander Plas. The graduate forward fractured his right hand during practice Wednesday and is out for the season, Coach Tony Bennett revealed shortly before tip-off.

“Finding out about Ben was hard,” said Shedrick, who finished with a game-high five blocks in helping to limit North Carolina to 35.8 percent shooting. “Nobody expects that to happen, and so when you’re kind of just thrown back into the action, you’ve got to make sure you’re ready, so I’m here to pick Ben up because I know he’s going through a lot right now.”

Jayden Gardner collected 17 points and 10 rebounds, both team highs, for Virginia, which shot 58.3 percent from the field in the second half. The fifth-year forward who grew up in nearby Wake Forest, N.C., also went 7 for 8 on free throws, including 5 for 6 in the final 1:19.

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Virginia made 9 of 10 at the foul line in the final 1:57 to douse any glimmer of a Tar Heels comeback.

Junior guard Reece Beekman had 15 points, five assists, five steals and three rebounds as the Cavaliers claimed the rubber match of the three meetings this season. Franklin chipped in 14 points. The Cavaliers did not trail in the second half.

Davis almost single-handedly kept North Carolina (20-13) within reach, scoring 24 points on 8-for-14 shooting, including 4 for 8 on three-pointers. The junior point guard was the only Tar Heels starter to shoot above 50 percent from the field.

Caleb Love added 11 points but shot 3 for 12 with Beekman, the ACC defensive player of the year, tightly attached. The Tar Heels’ leading scorer this season is averaging 16.7 points but has not fared well against Virginia’s swarming pack line.

“Reece did a terrific job on him, then Kihei [Clark] did,” Bennett said. “But our defense of course is predicated on individual talent: Kadin’s ability to block, Jayden’s ability to move with his quick feet and Reece and Kihei and the other guys. But it’s really a help-each-other defense.”

A 10-2 run beginning with a layup from Clark, a fifth-year guard, and capped by a three-pointer from Isaac McKneely produced the Cavaliers’ first double-figure lead of the second half at 47-37 with 11:11 to play. The Tar Heels answered, pulling within 51-47 a few moments later.

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Clark subsequently turned it over trying to control a pass against North Carolina’s full-court press, but Virginia held on defense and got Franklin’s three-pointer from the right corner. Beekman made 1 of 2 free throws to grow the margin to 55-47 with 5:47 to play.

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With Vander Plas unavailable, Bennett modified the lineup by inserting redshirt senior Francisco Caffaro with the starters. The 7-foot-1 Argentine made his first start this season after starting 16 games last season and drew the initial assignment of guarding North Carolina all-ACC forward-center Armando Bacot.

There was uncertainty whether Bacot would be able to play and how effective the highly regarded NBA prospect would be. He departed Wednesday night’s second-round win against Boston College with an ailing right ankle.

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But the Tar Heels’ career leader in rebounds and double-doubles moved well in the early going, compelling Bennett to send Shedrick, a 6-11 redshirt junior, onto the floor when Caffaro picked up a quick foul. Caffaro and Shedrick took turns most of the rest of the way defending Bacot.

Caffaro provided a hearty dose of energy late in the first half with a steal that led to Beekman’s layup for a 16-13 lead with 6:36 to play. Moments later, Caffaro drew a charge on Bacot, much to the dismay of the pro-UNC crowd.

Vander Plas joined teammates for warmups with a cast protecting his right hand and forearm and dressed in a blue short-sleeve Virginia T-shirt. The graduate transfer shared a laugh with Shedrick and Caffaro near midcourt before tip-off.

Vander Plas’s parents — father Dean and mother Mary — made their way into the arena to watch their son during pregame drills and applauded as he and the rest of the team jogged into the tunnel and back to the locker room. Either one or both attended every game this season at John Paul Jones Arena in Charlottesville.

Discussing the news of Vander Plas’s season ending injury was particularly disheartening for Bennett, who is close with Gander Plas’s father. Bennett and Dean Vander Plas were teammates at Wisconsin Green Bay for three seasons beginning in 1988-89, all under Bennett’s celebrated father, Dick.

“They responded well,” Bennett said of how his team handled the injury. “This is a close-knit team, and you talk about lifting each other up. Unity is one of our big pillars.”

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