Thanks to the sort of defensive dominance coach Roy Williams has been seeking, North Carolina's longer-than-usual wait for its latest ACC Tournament championship is over.
Now the Tar Heels can turn their focus to returning to their customary results in the NCAAs, too.
No. 7 North Carolina held No. 4 Virgina without a field goal for more than 8 minutes in the second half to break open a back-and-forth Atlantic Coast Conference final, and tournament MVP Joel Berry II scored 19 points Saturday night, giving the Tar Heels a 61-57 victory for their first league title since 2008.
Since then, Williams had led the Tar Heels to four ACC finals — in 2011, 2012, 2013 and 2015 — and lost each one. Even Virginia owned a more recent ACC trophy, from 2014.
Marcus Paige added 13 points to help North Carolina (28-6) win its 18th league championship.
Malcolm Brogdon led Virginia (26-7) with 15 points, but the conference player of the year was limited to 6 of 22 on field-goal attempts, 2 of 9 on 3s. In all, Carolina held the Cavs to 37 percent shooting.
Now comes the NCAA Tournament and an all-but-certain No. 1 seeding that often feels like a birthright for the kids who wear Carolina blue. UNC hasn't been to the Final Four since winning its second national title under Williams in 2009 — which would not seem all that long ago for most schools but feels like a lifetime to the folks from Chapel Hill.
Virginia would have been a No. 1 with a victory Saturday, it seems clear, but now who knows where the Cavaliers will end up when the brackets come out Sunday?
Paige only scored four in the first half but he took over at the beginning of the second for UNC, continuing the resurgence he began in Friday's semifinal. So much for his supposed slump. The lithe guard scored nine of 10 points for the Tar Heels in one stretch, including a steal and end-to-end drive for a layup, a jumper as he curled around a screen and a pull-up floater.
Then Berry got going on offense, while the entire Tar Heels squad displayed the sort of defensive toughness and will that Williams has been begging to see consistently.
After Anthony Gill put Virginia ahead 44-40 with a little under 10 minutes left in regulation, the Cavaliers missed their next 12 shots, part of a larger 2-for-20 rut. That allowed UNC to go on a 15-2 run capped by Brice Johnson's putback layup for a 55-46 lead with under 2 minutes to go — the largest margin for either team.
Virginia would cut it to two in the closing moments, but UNC held on.
It was a similar defensive shutdown to the one North Carolina used to fuel a 24-point run that put away Notre Dame in the semifinals Friday.
These were the top two seeds in the conference tourney — UNC finished atop the standings, UVA was No. 2 — and both teams are capable of playing shutdown defense.
Virginia, best known for that aspect of its game, ranks second nationally in opponents' scoring average at a hair under 60 points, while UNC only allowed one foe to shoot better than 50 percent all season and held semifinal opponent Notre Dame scoreless for 9 1/2 minutes.
So not surprisingly, they were quite good at forcing the other into problems on offense right from the outset Saturday.
North Carolina turned the ball over eight times in the first 12 1/2 minutes. Virginia missed its first four shots and started 4 for 13 on field-goal attempts.
All in all, it was evenly matched, high-level basketball. For a half-plus, anyway.
The teams were tied at 28 at halftime, and were each other's equal in various other ways to that point. Each had 14 rebounds. Each had 16 points in the paint. Each held the other under 30 percent on 3-point tries.
Very clean, too: Only six combined fouls were whistled in the opening half, providing the sort of continuity that's a rarity these days in college basketball.
BEEN A WHILE
The previous four ACC titles had been won by a school from outside of the North Carolina center of power: FSU in 2012, Miami in 2013, Virginia in 2014, Notre Dame in 2015. That drought was the longest for that state in league history.
North Carolina: Now only one behind Duke's ACC record of 19 titles. ... This was the Tar Heels' 34th appearance in an ACC final, most in conference history. ... Over the past 13 years, UNC has appeared in seven ACC finals — against seven different schools.