CHAPEL HILL — Cam Johnson had no plans for a rowdy victory celebration after North Carolina survived an 88-85 overtime victory over Miami on Saturday, instead settling in at home to watch some basketball as the Tar Heels began preparing for a quick turnaround.
He only had one hope for the Duke-Virginia game.
“Eight overtimes, nine, 10, 11,” he said, smiling. “All the way up until they’ve got to leave Virginia on Monday.”
Johnson didn’t get his wish in the Blue Devils’ 81-71 victory, but its he and his teammates got some ideas in advance of Monday night’s date with Virginia at the Smith Center, although they’re keenly aware of just how good the Cavs have been with three straight victories over the Tar Heels.
Over that stretch, Carolina has averaged just 51.6 points while averaging 13 turnovers and shooting 35 percent from the field.
“They really play their style of basketball,” Johnson said. “They really just slow the game down and make you defend for 30 (seconds) and play offense for 30. It kind of changes the whole dynamic of the game, and it makes every possession matter just a little bit more.”
In the ultimate contrast of styles, the high-octane Tar Heels will try to do a better of imposing their tempo on the Cavs than they’ve done in the past three meetings, with fewer than 60 possessions in each game. In Carolina’s last win over Virginia in 2017, the Tar Heels were able to push the pace to 61 possessions.
This season, the Tar Heels are playing faster than ever at an average of 75.2 possessions — largely thanks to point guard Coby White — while Virginia is in its old familiar spot at No. 353 out of 353 teams in the nation in terms of tempo at 59.3 possessions.
Duke’s blueprint for a victory over Virginia isn’t one that can easily be replicated as the average-shooting Blue Devils hit 13 of 21 3-point attempts, forced the always-steady Kyle Guy into five turnovers and limited the Cavaliers to seven free throw attempts.
Despite all of that, the Blue Devils only pushed the tempo to 63 possessions and Virginia kept the game within reach late into the second half, paining a clear picture of how the Cavs are 25-3 in ACC play dating to the start of last season.
“It’s hard to beat that,” Carolina coach Roy Williams said. “You might be able to beat that if you have five Supermen on your team.”
One thing Carolina will certainly have to replicate from Duke’s blueprint is an excellent game from its point guard, and lately, White has done his best to look like Superman, averaging 20 points, 5.2 assists and, most importantly, 2.4 turnovers during the Tar Heels’ seven-game winning streak.
White was honest regarding his hot streak.
“I didn’t expect to play as well as I am right now,” he said. “I just figured I was going to come in and get some solid minutes, earn my minutes, make plays and try to be a point guard. I’m just playing with a lot of confidence right now, just getting better each and every day in practice.”
He’ll have to be at his best on Monday night for the Tar Heels to take down a team and Williams has nothing but respect for, despite their differing offensive philosophies.
“Tony (Bennett) has been fantastic,” he said. “He’s done a great job and he’s one of my favorite guys; workman like team. Three guys on the perimeter that are as good as any three guys on the perimeter in the country. They know their strengths, they play to their strengths and they stay out of their weaknesses. It’s a big-time team.”