CHARLOTTESVILLE, VA --- With plenty of NBA scouts watching and many more ACC voters present, North Carolina's Harrison Barnes and Virginia's Mike Scott wobbled their way to performances Saturday that had both contingents scratching their heads and unimpressed.
With just one week left in the regular season, and to make a final impression on those that will decide who wins the conference's top individual honor, Barnes and Scott painted themselves into a corner. And they did this while UNC senior 7-footer Tyler Zeller was the best player on the court, scoring 20 points and grabbing six rebounds and blocking a shot in the Tar Heels' 54-51 victory at John Paul Jones Arena.
In fact, it was Zeller's drive and dunk that gave UNC enough separation to execute its final game plan of the afternoon, thus sealing the deal before a full house of Wahoo fans. But more on that later.
As for Barnes (3-for-15 overall, 0-5 from 3-point range, seven points) and Scott (3-13, 0-2, 22 minutes because of foul trouble), it just wasn't their day.
"Harrison took some bad shots," said UNC coach Roy Williams, who also noted the entire team didn't shoot the ball with great discretion much of the afternoon. But he was right, Barnes forced a lot of stuff.
Virginia coach Tony Bennett wasn't gushing about Scott's play, either.
"He was off and maybe he was settling a little on the outside," Bennett said.
Bennett also said that Scott picking up his third and fourth fouls in the second half also kept him from getting into any offensive rhythm. The fourth call drew one of the louder eruptions of disapproval from fans in this building in a long time. But the irony is that UVa was more efficient offensively in the first half and inside the final 10 minutes when Scott was on the bench.
So what do these performances do to the stars' ACC POY chances?
Barnes had made a huge recent push for the award by scoring at least 20 points in four of his previous five games, and he'd averaged just under 20 points a game in UNC's previous 10 contests. His rebounding numbers were up and remained so with the nine he grabbed Saturday which has been the ground-floor evidence that his assertiveness and focus had also substantially increased.
Scott was the early leader for the honor in the clubhouse back when league play began seven weeks ago. He went for 25 and 20 points in the two games before falling to UNC, but has only reached the 20-point mark in three ACC games. It should also be understood, however, that Virginia's more deliberate style keeps Scott from getting the kinds of looks Barnes gets playing for the high-octane Heels and with passer-extraordinaire Kendall Marshall.
But, unlike Barnes, Scott isn't going to lose votes to teammates, so he may not have hurt his standing much, if at all. It's probably Barnes, who along with Scott didn't draw rave reviews from some of the scouts in attendance, who may have suffered the greatest blow to his candidacy.
Zeller probably slid firmly into the leader's chair as the favorite with not just his overall performance, but a driving dunk with 14 seconds left for the game's final points.
UNC was in a delay mode, and after working down the shot clock and leading by a point, Marshall found himself on the right perimeter with three other Tar Heels bunched up nearby. The spacing was horrible. He made a move toward the center of the key and found Zeller, who released from his man, caught the ball, made a hesitation move before dribbling with his left hand to the rim and slamming one down.
The lousy spacing ended up helping Carolina because there was no weak side defense there to help out. Zeller recognized that and made UVa pay.
"I saw daylight, really, and I just went for the rim," he said.
The Tar Heels and Cavaliers each have two games left, so there's a lot that can still happen. But Barnes and Scott must do a lot to change the impressions left by this collective performance.