London Perrantes backpedaled like an NFL defensive back, all the while keeping his eyes on the ball in the North Carolina backcourt. When he saw the lazy outlet pass, he pounced like a cat.
Perrantes made the steal, sped down the court, suckered J.P. Tokoto into thinking he was going to shoot a layup, and then, at the very last second, dished to teammate Justin Anderson, who threw down a two-handed dunk.
The first-half assist was one of Perrantes’ career-high nine.
“I was going to throw the lob, but [Tokoto] has extreme bounce — he probably would have blocked it out of bounds,” Perrantes said. “I just wanted to get him in the air and then get it to [Anderson] so he could finish.”
Virginia’s freshman floor general had plenty of able finishers on this night.
Joe Harris and Malcolm Brogdon had 16 points apiece and Anderson added 13 as Virginia used a 22-6 run spanning the first and second halves to easily defeat North Carolina, 76-61, in front of a crowd of 13,045 at John Paul Jones Arena.
Virginia (14-5, 5-1), which hosts Virginia Tech on Saturday, is off to its best ACC start since 1994-95.
“It was nice,” Brogdon said. “We’re not content with the win, but we’re happy about it.
“They’re a good team. They’ve been up and down this year but they’re talented and well-coached. I thought we really established ourselves in the second half and got it done.”
Virginia shot 48 percent from the field, including 40 percent (8 of 20) from 3-point range, and held Tar Heels’ leading scorer Marcus Paige to nine points, nearly 10 below his season average.
“Virginia was the more efficient team,” said UNC coach Roy Williams, whose team dropped to 11-7, 1-4 in the ACC. “Tony Bennett has done a great job of getting everyone into a certain role and the players understand how he wants them to play. He’s done a lot better of a job with that than I have.”
The first half featured seven lead changes.
Harris got off to a roaring start, draining three straight 3-pointers to put Virginia up 9-7.
The arena was rocking after Perrantes’ steal and dish to Anderson that put UVa up 22-18.
UNC’s Leslie McDonald answered with a 3-pointer and the lead changed twice more before Virginia closed the half on a 12-2 run.
The spurt was highlighted by Anthony Gill and Akil Mitchell dunks, included a 3-point play by Brogdon and was capped by a Perrantes 3-pointer, which came off a pass from Harris as he drove along the baseline.
Virginia led 38-29 at the break and carried the momentum into the second half.
The Cavaliers quickly took a 15-point advantage, scoring on their first five possessions. Mike Tobey scored six of the team’s first nine points.
“You can go down the list and see the guys who stepped up,” said Virginia coach Tony Bennett.
Bennett loved the way his team played with a big lead in the second half — the Tar Heels never got within single digits.
“They responded,” he said. “We use that saying — when you whip a donkey, it kicks, and when you kick a thoroughbred, it responds.
“And I’m not calling us a thoroughbred or a donkey, and I don’t even think we got whipped but we challenged them and challenged them [to] get the game back. The fact that they responded to it and played quality possessions — that’s the thing I liked the most.”
The win had extra meaning for Mitchell, a North Carolina native.
“I always had friends in high school who would have died to go to Carolina,” he said. “To be able to play them is a dream come true and to be able to beat them like this at home is special.”
Perrantes, the laid-back Californian, didn’t think his own performance was all that special.
“I just came out and performed,” he said. “It’s nothing new. I know I can do stuff like this. I don’t feel like other people did. I’m just taking what coach gives me.”
Mitchell, though, couldn’t sing Perrantes’ praises enough.
“He sees you even before you know that you’re open,” Mitchell said. “He’s a great point guard. He’s got his head on his shoulders.
“He’s really the heart of our team right now. He’s setting the pace.”
All five of Virginia’s ACC wins have been by double digits...Perrantes' nine assists were the most since Jontel Evans had 10 in 2010-11 against Howard and the most in an ACC game since Sean Singletary’s 10 against Boston College in 2007-08.