CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (AP)—Todd Billet did it again.
Billet hit his third decisive 3-pointer in four games, connecting with 13 seconds left for his only field goal of the second half Tuesday night and giving Virginia a 74-72 victory over No. 12 North Carolina.
Billet, though, wasn’t inclined to crow about his lucky run.
“I’ve been fortunate enough to get some great situations where we executed perfectly and I’ve gotten great looks and fortunately they’ve been able to go down for me,” the senior tri-captain said.
Billet beat No. 18 Georgia Tech on Feb. 14 on a 3-pointer with 2.4 seconds left, then hit another with 16 seconds left at Clemson on Saturday, lifting the Cavaliers to a badly needed 58-55 victory.
This time, Virginia inbounded the ball with 23.8 seconds left, ran time off the clock and then Billet made his move, coming around a screen that got him loose from Raymond Felton and rattling the shot in.
“I just wanted to give it a shot,” Billet said.
Coach Pete Gillen, whose job might have been saved by three victories in four games, said he’s never seen a player win three games with late shots, and that Billet never seemed to consider any other offensive options.
“There was no doubt in his mind he was going to shoot it,” Gillen said. “He didn’t even look at the other guy. … I don’t want to wake up.”
The Cavaliers (15-10, 5-9 Atlantic Coast Conference) led briefly only twice in the second half before Billet’s heroics, and even North Carolina coach Roy Williams admitted some appreciation for Billet’s dramatics.
“It’s a thrilling time in his life, something he’s going to remember forever,” he said. “As a coach you have to admire a player like that.”
Williams didn’t blame Felton for getting screened off the play.
“I thought Raymond was close enough to bother him,” Williams said.
When the ball rattled in, and when Felton’s desperate heave at the buzzer was not even close, University Hall erupted in hysteria with hundreds of students storming the court from both end zones.
It was Virginia’s seventh victory in 10 games against the Tar Heels and was much needed if the Cavaliers are to avoid the ACC play-in game.
Virginia kept pace with Maryland in the win column after the Terrapins beat Clemson. Maryland still must play Wake Forest and North Carolina State while Virginia also plays Wake Forest. The Cavaliers and Terrapins then close their regular season in College Park, Md., on March 7.
North Carolina (16-8, 6-7), which had won two in a row to get back to even in the league, started its last chance at midcourt with 9.8 seconds left. The Cavaliers had two fouls to give, and Billet fouled Felton with 7.3 seconds left, restarting the possession. Jason Clark knocked the ball free on the next inbound, forcing Felton’s off-balance try from the right.
Devin Smith scored 12 of his 20 points in the second half for Virginia and J.R. Reynolds scored 14. Billet finished with 12 on 3-for-8 shooting.
Sean May led North Carolina with 20 points and Felton had 16.
Virginia trimmed a nine-point deficit to two twice in the last five minutes and finally got over the hump when Smith scored on a drive into traffic and then hit a 3-pointer from the left corner with 2:20 left.
But May, who had hurt the Cavaliers inside throughout the second half, did it again with a dunk with 1:58 left, giving the Tar Heels the lead.
Both teams missed on their next possessions, and Virginia called timeout with just under a minute left. Billet missed on a drive, but Virginia came away with the ball and Gary Forbes tried a 3-pointer. That missed, but the officials said the ball had gone out off North Carolina.
After a long timeout with 23.8 seconds left that included a review of the video of the play by the officials, Billet came through again.
North Carolina led 66-57 with 8:00 left, but Virginia rallied as Smith sandwiched a driving basket and a dunk around a basket by David Noel.
Forbes’ three-point play and two free throws by Elton Brown capped a 9-2 run that pulled the Cavaliers to 68-66 with 4:32 remaining.