This past week it was put on display at Barclays Center, where the Cavaliers improved to an all-time record of 8-1 at the arena upon winning the ACC Championship on Saturday.
The Cavaliers defeated North Carolina in the title game, snapping a seven-game postseason losing streak against the Tar Heels, giving the Cavaliers their third ACC Championship and their first since 2014.
Time and again, the Tar Heels were forced to hoist up last-second contested heaves, thanks to the Cavalier defense. Virginia, the nation’s top-team heading into this week’s NCAA Tournament, made a three-point lead feel like five, a five-point lead feel like 10, and a 10-point lead feel like 20.
It’s what they do.
“I think that speaks to our defense and how we stand to get back and build a wall,” said senior guard Devon Hall. “That was key for us with this team, especially with them flying up and down the court. But I think we pretty much thrive on defensive stops, so that gives us energy and it gives us momentum.”
The Tar Heels and Cavaliers actually shot comparable percentages, with the Cavs ending the night at 42.0 percent and the Tar Heels capping out at 40.8 percent. The Cavaliers, though, didn’t record their second turnover of the game until 11:30 remained in the second half, and forcing nine for the Tar Heels may as well have felt like double.
“I think it becomes a possession game, it tightens up,” said Virginia head coach Tony Bennett. “I think defense is really important. They had three points off turnovers, 12 second-chance points but two fast break points. Those are some keys, and we always talk about that.
“But yeah, you've got to take care of the ball,” he continued. “Then guys have to make plays and play with the intangibles, and this team is all about the intangibles.”
For the Tar Heels, who earned a second-seed in the NCAA Tournament despite a 10-loss season and beginning the ACC Tournament as a sixth-seed, optimism remains in a season where they led the nation in quadrant-one victories (14), which could be critical in the NCAA Tournament.
Tar Heel head coach Roy Williams also never discounted the Cavaliers, who reached top of the nation despite being picked sixth in the ACC coaches preseason poll, and not starting out the season as a top-25 team.
“You know, guys, I'm going to tell you, there's a lot of things I don't give a flip about, and that's lower than anything else, okay,” Williams said, comically, of the preseason poll.
“They're really good,” he added. “We felt like we had to play really, really well, and I don't think we did that. We shot 40 percent. We were supposed to be a great rebounding team. We only had two more rebounds than they did.”
In the win, Virginia had four players in double figures, led by Kyle Guy, who had 16 points, and was named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player. New York native Ty Jerome added 12 points, six assists and six rebounds, and was joined by the aforementioned Hall on the respective All-Tournament teams.
ACC All-Tournament First Team
F Marvin Bagley, Duke
G Devon Hall, Virginia
F Theo Pinson, North Carolina
G Kyle Guy, Virginia
F Luke Maye, North Carolina
ACC All-Tournament Second Team
G Ky Bowman, Boston College
G Shelton Mitchell, Clemson
G Bonzie Colson, Notre Dame
G Joel Berry, North Carolina
G Ty Jerome, Virginia
Most Outstanding Player
G Kyle Guy, Virginia
ACC teams in NCAA Tournament South Region
No. 1 – Virginia
No. 6 – Miami
No. 2 – North Carolina
No. 9 – Florida State
No. 2 – Duke
No. 5 – Clemson
No. 9 – North Carolina State
No. 11 – Syracuse (first four)
No. 8 – Virginia Tech