Cormac Ryan scores 18 and No. 10 North Carolina finally wins at Virginia, 54-44

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CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (AP) — With its two star players doing little in a challenging first half, No. 10 North Carolina needed someone to emerge as an alternative against Virginia.

Enter Cormac Ryan.

He scored 18 points — 15 in the first half — on six 3-pointers and the Tar Heels moved into first place in the Atlantic Coast Conference with a 54-44 victory Saturday.

“Against Virginia, you’re gonna have to knock down some some shots,” Tar Heels coach Hubert Davis said. “And he was the only one that consistently was able to shoot the ball from 3. And that was huge for us from the standpoint of him making them. But him making them I think stretched out their defense.”

Ryan, who made four 3s each in his last two games, led the Tar Heels in scoring for the first time, and his first half shooting opened things up inside after halftime.

“We were able to get some baskets around in the paint because of Cormac and his ability to shoot the basketball,” Hubert Davis said.

RJ Davis added 12 points — all in the second half — and Armando Bacot had 10 points and 13 rebounds for the Tar Heels (21-6, 13-3), who moved into the top spot alone because No. 8 Duke lost earlier in the day at Wake Forest. The victory also ended an eight-game losing streak at John Paul Jones Arena for North Carolina, but Hubert Davis said his team's mindset won't change with four regular season games left.

“There’s more to be said and more to be done,” he said.

Jordan Minor had 12 points and 10 rebounds for the Cavaliers (20-8, 11-6), who could not recover from a 15-minute stretch in the first half during which they missed 22 of 23 field goals tries, leading to a 16-4 North Carolina run. More frustrating for Virginia was that it came with Bacot on the bench in foul trouble.

“The offense had a tough day. Yeah, it’s been a common thread the past couple games at that end," coach Tony Bennett said while crediting his defense for keeping it close. “I think the defense, there was a couple breakdowns, crucial. And we put a lot of pressure on our defense down the stretch. We had the possession or we lost a guy, but the defense held us in there enough.”

North Carolina never trailed after the opening minute. It was just 26-16 at halftime, and Virginia closed to within six three times early in the second half, and to within 47-42 with just over two minutes to play, but Minor missed the front end of a one-and-one with 1:50 left and Harrison Ingram got free underneath for an easy lay-in at the other end to make it 49-42.

After a basket by Elijah Gertrude got Virginia within five again, Ingram made a free throw, the Tar Heels rebounded his miss and RJ Davis made a pair to seal it.

The Tar Heels were playing for the first time in a week since a 96-81 victory against Virginia Tech. Two night later, the Hokies beat the Cavaliers 75-41.

BIG PICTURE

North Carolina: RJ Davis (ACC-high 21.3 ppg) was scoreless at halftime and finished 1 for 14 from the field. Bacot (14.6 ppg) had only two points at the break after playing just more than seven minutes before picking up his second foul.

Virginia: The Cavaliers' offensive has been regressing steadily of late, even before the horrid first half against the Tar Heels. Two games ago, they missed their first 10 free throws in a 49-47 victory against Wake Forest. They then managed just 41 points on 32.4% shooting in their 34-point loss at Virginia Tech.

UP NEXT

North Carolina is at home against Miami on Monday night.

Virginia plays at Boston College on Wednesday night.

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