WASHINGTON — When North Carolina left for Washington, D.C., on Tuesday looking to make enough noise to earn a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament, it already had an impressive body of work. The Tar Heels had victories over Miami, Maryland and Duke to go along with a regular-season title in one of the best conferences in all of college basketball.
On Saturday, they added an ACC Tournament championship to their resume.
UNC completed its three-game stretch in the nation’s capital with a 61-57 triumph over a Virginia squad that’s also in contention for a one-seed in the Big Dance. The low-scoring affair was played at the Cavaliers’ pace, but in the end, it was Roy Williams’ group that was able to make the tough plays toward the end of the contest.
The ACC Tournament title was the program’s first since 2008, despite four other appearances since that season. Point guard Joel Berry was named MVP of this year’s event, while seniors Marcus Paige and Brice Johnson joined the sophomore on the All-Tournament First Team.
“To win outright the ACC regular-season championship and back it up by coming here and winning the tournament kind of validates the season we’ve had,” Paige said.
North Carolina faced three potential NCAA tournament teams on the way to the championship. On Thursday, Paige and Co. earned a convincing 88-71 win over Pittsburgh in the quarterfinals. The following afternoon, they ramped up their defensive play in a 78-47 blowout over Notre Dame, which defeated the Heels earlier this season.
Saturday marked another opportunity for UNC to get some payback, this time on a UVa squad that beat Williams’ team in Charlottesville just two weeks before. Holding the Cavaliers to 36.5 percent shooting, the Tar Heels emerged victorious.
Berry was the star of the championship matchup, scoring 19 points on 5-of-8 shooting while hitting all three of his attempts from long range. A couple of his baskets came in situations when his team needed a bucket.
“I just try to shoot it with confidence if I got the ball in my hand,” Berry stated. “That’s the reason I just hit those shots, just because it was all about confidence, just using my instinct.”
UNC extended its current winning streak to five games after going undefeated in D.C., and it will be hoping to win six more contests before the 2015-16 season comes to a close. The team is essentially guaranteed a No. 1 seed in the Big Dance, and the Heels may not be the only ACC squad at the top of a regional when the selection committee releases the bracket at 6 p.m. on Sunday.
“I do think Virginia deserves one as well,” Williams said. “They’ve had a big-time run this entire season.”
Regardless of the seeding, UNC will hope to use the momentum it built in Washington, D.C., to make a run in the Big Dance. Before they prepare for their first NCAA tournament matchup next week, though, the Tar Heels can enjoy the fact that they’ll be hanging another ACC Tournament championship banner in the rafters on the Dean E. Smith Center next season.