North Carolina knew it was going to face a contrast of styles Sunday evening in its Atlantic Coast Conference regular season opener at Virginia.
But the Tar Heels, playing lethargically and without passion for much of the evening, couldn't hang down the stretch as they took a startling 61-52 loss to the Cavaliers in John Paul Jones Arena---UNC's first-ever loss in Virginia's hoops venue.
The Tar Heels shot just 32 percent in the first half (8 of 25), but held UVa to just 37.5 percent shooting and only one offensive rebound as UNC took a 25-24 halftime lead.
UNC was fortunate to have its slim halftime advantage considering that Virginia went over half of the opening period without drawing a single foul on the Tar Heels. By that point the Tar Heels had drawn seven fouls, and they would enjoy a decisive 12-4 advantage in free throw attempts over the course of the game.
UNC came out like gangbusters to start the second half, making five of its first six shots to put together an 9-2 run and build its biggest lead of the evening (34-26).
But then Virginia embarked on a couple runs of its own, including a 10-0 spurt and a 21-6 rally, led by the steady play of Joe Harris, who led the Wahoos with 19 points.
Playing the slow, methodical game that head coach Tony Bennett is well known for, Virginia completely broke down the Tar Heel defense down the stretch, finding easy shots and making them.
Evan Nolte had a pair of key three-pointers for UVa down the stretch, helping the Cavaliers build a 46-40 advantage which may as well have been a 20-point lead given the pace of the game and how generally poorly North Carolina was playing.
The one bright spot for the Tar Heels was junior wing Reggie Bullock, who scored 22 points and nailed back-to-back three pointers in the final seven minutes to keep UNC close.
Despite playing largely ineffective team basketball and struggling most of the game to deal with Virginia's excellent perimeter defense, UNC was remarkably still within a single basket into the final three minutes, but the Tar Heels failed to make another field goal, allowing the Cavaliers to assume strategic control.
Following an offensive foul on James Michael McAdoo in the final two minutes the Wahoos salted away the victory from the free throw line. In one of the more disappointing outings for McAdoo so far as a Tar Heel, he scored just seven points.
Virginia improved to 11-3 with the win and 1-0 in the ACC, while UNC fell to 10-4, 0-1 in league play.
For North Carolina, the fact that Virginia's losses came to the likes of George Mason, Delaware, and Old Dominion certainly won't make them feel much better.
Things won't get easier anytime soon for the Tar Heels, as they prepare for a home game Thursday night against resurgent Miami, and then a road game at Florida State, which embarrassed UNC a year ago when Carolina had arguably the nation's top team.
Clearly Roy Williams has his work cut out for him as he looks to avoid UNC's second non-NCAA Tournament season in four years.
The Tar Heels are 1-3 in 'true' road games, which is disconcerting in and of itself, but the lack of passion and individuality this UNC team seems to consistently fall into is the thing that should really bother Williams and all of those who love North Carolina hoops.