North Carolina Tar Heels: UNC-UVa-120225

Zeller makes case for ACC POY in win

February, 25, 2012

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. – With 13.3 seconds left, North Carolina forward Tyler Zeller was not supposed to be an option. Actually, he said, he was the only Tar Heel on the court who wasn’t supposed to be an option.

The fact that he became the option – scoring on a driving, decisive, one-handed dunk to secure a bruising 54-51 victory at Virginia on Saturday – showed again why he might also be the option for ACC Player of the Year.

“Z,’’ UNC coach Roy Williams said after his team made only a third of its field goals, but prevailed at John Paul Jones Arena, “was huge for us.”

Against a team with limited tall players in the post, the 7-footer was, frankly, supposed to be. After all, he was the only Carolina starter who shot better than (or even close to) 50 percent the last time these two teams met (a UNC win in Chapel Hill on Feb. 11.)

And after making only 3 of his 7 shots Tuesday night during a win at NC State, Zeller seemed primed for an outburst here – especially with another ACC-Player-of-the-Year candidate, Virginia’s Mike Scott – on the court.

“This game, I think I was more aggressive [than Tuesday],’’ Zeller said. “Just finding a way to score.”

He used that attitude, and his size advantage, from the get-go, recording the seventh-ranked Tar Heels’ first 10 points en route to an 18-10 lead.

But even with Scott in foul trouble, Virginia used its hard-nosed, top-five defense to grind back, taking a 30-26 lead at halftime and going up by as much as 6 – 37-31 – in the second half.

“I thought we played pretty well through the night,’’ Cavaliers senior guard Sammy Zeglinski (11 points) said. “We played the game at our tempo. We battled, definitely.”

Indeed, with the Cavs putting extra pressure on Zeller (and the passing lanes to him), the senior seemed to disappear for a while, as fellow tall guy John Henson took up the slack by scoring 11 of his 15 points in the second half.

But in the final minutes, Zeller made his presence felt, again.

[+] EnlargeTyler Zeller
Geoff Burke/US PresswireTyler Zeller was the only Heel to make better than half of his shots against Virginia's tough defense.
With 4:10 left – and his team getting better spacing because of a new offensive set – Zeller’s layup gave his team a 52-49 cushion.

After Virginia’s Jontel Evans (13 points) scored on a steal-and-layup with 3:09 left, and both teams traded misses on their next two possessions, Zeller stepped – well, leaped – up again, with the shot clock winding down.

Even though he was supposed to serve as a screener, not a scorer.

Explained point guard Kendall Marshall, who assisted Zeller on the pivotal play: “I had a wing guarding me, and I beat him; I was pretty excited, I thought I was going to go get a layup. But of course, as great as a defensive team as they are, a big man stepped up. Z was on the wing, and I thought if I threw it to him, he’d get a shot off.”

He did more than that. Zeller caught the ball near the right foul line elbow, shot-faked to get around Cavs forward Akil Mitchell, and drove to the basket.

“Mike Scott was there, so I just had to go up strong as possible in case he jumped with me,’’ Zeller said.


“He made a very tough move – to be able to pump-fake like that, take one dribble, and finish at the rim, with authority, as a 7-footer, that’s pretty impressive,’’ Marshall said.

And in a Williams-described “tough-ass game” where there weren’t a whole lot of impressive numbers, Zeller stood out. He made 7 of his 11 shots for 20 points, while the rest of his team was 10-for-40. (UNC’s 17 field goals were its fewest in a victory under Williams).

Scott finished 3-for-13 with a season-low 6 points. UNC’s Harrison Barnes, another ACC Player-of-the-Year candidate, was 3-for-15 with 7 points and 9 rebounds, and Marshall finished with 1 point and 6 assists.

Zeller also recorded 6 rebounds in 31 minutes. Not a bad outing for a player who didn't even know he was in the league POY discussion until last weekend.

“He made tough shots and he's making really good plays,'' Virginia guard Joe Harris (12 points) said, "and that's what really good players do."

That’s what ACC Players of the Year do.

Follow Robbi Pickeral on Twitter at @bylinerp.

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. -- Maybe all the buzz -- or the Chuck Norris comparisons --went to Mike Scott's head. In discussions of the potential ACC Player of the Year, Scott's name has repeatedly surfaced, with supporters pointing out his all-around statistical dominance as well as his singular performances.

Another name in that contest? UNC's Tyler Zeller.

Zeller entered the afternoon ranked in the ACC's top 10 in points per game, rebounds per game, blocks per game and field goal percentage. Against the Cavs, he led all scorers with 20 points, including a perfect 6-of-6 from the free throw line, in UNC's 54-51 victory. He also grabbed 6 rebounds.

Scott, who played only 22 minutes because of foul trouble, came into the game as the ACC's active leader in points (1,431) and rebounds (900). He started Saturday ranked among the ACC's top six players in scoring (third), rebounding (sixth), field goal percentage (first) and defensive rebounds.

But on Saturday, Scott managed only a season-low 6 points and 7 rebounds. He started the game 0-for-4 and missed several wide-open jumpers.

What happened?

“I don't know, I just couldn't buy a basket,” Scott said. “I know normally I can make half of those [shots], so I just don't know what it was.”

[+] EnlargeMike Scott, Tyler Zeller
Geoff Burke/US PresswireVirginia's Mike Scott, left, came out on the short end of his matchup with Tyler Zeller.
Scott was in foul trouble early, notching two quick fouls in the first half and sitting with close to 10 minutes remaining. In the second half, he found a brief offensive spark, making two of the Cavaliers' first three baskets. But a foul call at the 16:01 mark put him back on the bench, where he sat for three minutes.

“That felt pretty good, felt like my normal self [making those two shots] and then I just picked up that foul,” Scott said.

Coming back in to the game at the 12:30 mark after Virginia's Akil Mitchell was tagged for his fourth foul, Scott matched up against John Henson at the 12:00 mark under Carolina's basket. After a missed James Michael McAdoo shot, both Scott and Henson went for the ball. Henson recoiled backward and the whistle blew. The call was a foul on Scott, his fourth, sending him back to the bench again. Virginia fans yelled high-decibel level boos toward the referees, venting their anger for several minutes afterward and chanting “Hen-son sucks,” several minutes later as he lined up at the free throw line.

Asked the key to stopping Scott, Henson said, “Get him in foul trouble -- you're not going to be that successful at stopping him offensively since he's such a good offensive player -- probably one of the best offensive big men in the ACC and the country.”

And what about that crucial fourth foul call?

“Oh yeah, I was hit, right there, you know you can go back to the tape or whatever, but it's kind of one of those things where I knew Scott would be going after the ball and he kind of elbow-checked me out there and so, you know, they called the foul,” Henson said. And maybe he gave it a bit of an acting job? “I might've given a little motion,” Henson said with a smile.

Scott didn't feel quite as positive when asked about the play. “I thought I boxed him out, so ...” Scott said. When asked if Henson might've given the play an acting job, Scott added, “I guess I was a little bit too aggressive … I didn't know I was that strong.”

Scott said when the whistle blew, he initially wasn't sure what the call was and thought that maybe he'd stepped out of bounds [rather than been called for a foul]. Still, overall, he said of his day's performance, “I kind of took myself out of the game by getting into foul trouble.”

UNC coach Roy Williams didn't think there was any question over the call, describing it in the postgame press conference: “He [Henson] whipped back because there was an elbow in his face. They went back and looked at it because they were trying to decide if it was something else. I don’t think that John’s that good of an actor, and his face doesn’t run into too many elbows. I’m not saying it was flagrant or anything, but it was a foul. And I don’t think there’s anything to drawing a foul there; you don’t want to draw a foul with your face in somebody’s elbow. That’s not very pleasant.”

While the game stayed close particularly in the second half, with Virginia slowing down many of the Heels' dominant scorers, they still couldn't stop Zeller. His team-leading performance mirrored two weeks ago in Chapel Hill, when he lead all Carolina scorers with 25 points in the win over UVa (in that game, Scott led all Virginia scorers with 18 points).

Cavaliers sophomore Joe Harris admitted it was difficult for Virginia to watch Scott struggle offensively. “He's a great all-around player and it's tough because sometimes we rely on Mike to score the basketball when other guys get a little cold,” he said. “And then him getting into foul trouble, which I felt like took him a little bit out of his rhythm.”

Still, Harris said that the uncharacteristic performance by Scott wouldn't hamper the senior's mentality in Virginia's matchup Thursday against Florida State. “I feel like Mike -- I don't think he ever really loses his confidence regardless of if he's missing shots,” Harris said.

But Scott's shot at the ACC player-of-the-year title took a hit, while Zeller keeps on rolling.

Rapid Reaction: UNC 54, Virginia 51

February, 25, 2012

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — A quick look at seventh-ranked North Carolina’s 54-51 win against Virginia at John Paul Jones Arena on Saturday:

What it means: That the Tar Heels survived to win their sixth straight road game since their 33-point loss at Florida State — and remain tied for first place in the ACC standings. Virginia has now dropped three of its last five games.

How it happened: UNC looked pretty comfy early, leading 18-10 (on 12 points from senior Tyler Zeller) — especially when Cavaliers star forward Mike Scott picked up his second foul with 8:46 left in the first half. But perhaps the Tar Heels got too comfy.

With Scott watching from the bench, the Cavs picked up their defensive intensity, allowing the Tar Heels only two more field goals the rest of the half. Virginia went on a 20-8 run before the break, taking the lead on a Sammy Zeglinski 3-pointer, then a 30-26 advantage into halftime when Zeglinski beat the buzzer from about three steps beyond the 3-point arc.

UNC finally took back the lead with 11:08 left during an 11-4 run during which Scott picked up his fourth foul (see below) and reserve P.J. Hairston scored five straight points.

A Jontel Evans steal and transition bucket cut Virginia’s deficit to 52-51 with about three minutes left. But after each team missed 3s, a Zeller dunk gave the Tar Heels a 54-51 cushion with 13.3 seconds left.

Zeller led the Tar Heels with 20 points and forward John Henson added 15. Evans finished with 13 points for the Cavaliers, and Scott added six.

Hubbub: With 12 minutes left — just after he drew a fourth foul from Virginia’s Akil Mitchell — UNC’s Henson made one of the most memorable plays of the game when he drew a fourth foul from Scott. And by “drew,” I mean sold a lot more contact than was there (if there was any at all). Officials even went to the monitors to see if an elbow had snapped Henson’s upper-body back so suddenly. UNC led by four at the time, and with the crowd in an uproar, scored five straight points to take back the lead. After the game, Henson said he was hit in the throat by Scott on Scott's fourth foul, but that he might have given a little extra ooph so the refs would notice.

What’s next: Seniors Zeller and Justin Watts will play their final game at the Smith Center when UNC hosts Maryland in its regular-season home finale on Wednesday night. Virginia will host Florida State on Thursday.