CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — For Tomas Woldetensae, a native of Italy who was playing junior college basketball at this time a year ago, just stepping inside the Dean Smith Center was a thrill.
It wouldn’t be his biggest thrill of the weekend.
That came one night later, when Woldetensae nailed a 3-pointer with 0.3 seconds remaining and lifted Virginia to a 64-62 ACC men’s basketball victory over North Carolina on Saturday.
“For me, the first time here, I was just appreciating the moment and living it,” said Woldetensae, who finished with a team-high 18 points, hitting six of 10 shots from beyond the 3-point arc.
It was Woldetensae who was called for a foul that sent North Carolina’s Chris Keeling to the free-throw line with 10 seconds remaining.
The Tar Heels were trailing 61-59 when Keeling attempted a 3-point shot with 10.3 seconds. He knocked down all three shots to give UNC a 62-61 lead.
“It was such a big, emotional experience for sure,” Woldetensae said. “At first, I thought I lost it for my teammates. Then, I had a chance to redeem myself.”
It was the fifth straight loss for the Tar Heels (10-15, 3-11). The Cavaliers, who entered the game as two-point underdogs, improved their record to 17-7 overall and 9-5 in the conference.
Three-pointers made a big difference in the game, as the Cavaliers went 9-for-21 from beyond the arc. Carolina was 3-for-10.
The Tar Heels’ Garrison Brooks had 20 points to lead all scorers and Carolina got 17 points from prize freshman Cole Anthony, who took a blow to the head with 11:59 remaining, went to the locker room and then returned with 8:11 left.
North Carolina shot 50% from the field, compared to UVa’s 44.4%, and outrebounded the Cavaliers 32-26, with freshman Armando Bacot from Richmond grabbing 16 boards.
“Between winning and losing, I feel for them in that regard because they’ve been close and they’ve been hit by the injury bug in a way that a lot of teams haven’t,” UVa coach Tony Bennett said.
“I’m sure they’ve been battling some ups and downs. We’ve been so close in every game. It was an important game for us and I’m thankful for the way our guys responded. I think we made some plays down the stretch, as they did, too.”
It was no surprise that Woldetensae’s 3-point marksmanship was the difference. He had contributed seven-triple performances in earlier games with Wake Forest and Louisville.
Bennett was quick to praise sophomore point guard Kihei Clark, who was 4 of 13 from the field, missing all four of his 3-point attempts, but just missed a double-double with 10 points and nine assists.
“He didn’t play his best game in certain ways,” Bennett said, “but he’s got a lot on his plate. Some guys have it inside of them. Warrior or whatever word you want to use, he’s got it.”
The Cavaliers also got a solid performance from freshman guard Casey Morsell, who hit both of his 3-point attempts and finished with 10 points in just under 20 minutes.
“For both teams, Carolina and us, our inconsistency in shooting the ball has cost us and has been hard to overcome,” Bennett said. “I think we left it on the board at Louisville when [Woldetensae] shot it so well. For us to go 9-for-21 [on 3-pointers] those are numbers we aren’t used to seeing.
“It gives you the balance you need to have an efficient, quality offense.”