CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. -- On a young team that featured four players participating in their first conference game, Virginia junior guard Joe Harris was a steadying influence Sunday.
Harris finished with 19 points on 7-of-11 shooting, the only Virginia player to score in double figures, and the Cavaliers rallied in the second half to beat North Carolina 61-52 at the John Paul Jones Arena.
Both team were playing their Atlantic Coast Conference opener.
"It's a different atmosphere," Harris said of ACC play. "As the game kind of went along, guys kind of got into their groove."
It looked as if North Carolina (10-4) would run away with the game early in the second half, capitalizing on some sloppy play from the Cavaliers.
Virginia coach Tony Bennett called a timeout with 17:41 to play after two careless turnovers from his team. From that point, the Cavaliers (11-3) did not turn the ball over again.
"They needed to understand and get going," Bennett said of the Cavaliers' early second-half struggles. "I thought defensively and offensively, it was so shaky. After talking at halftime, I thought we would come out with a little more purpose, and we were wandering too much."
After falling behind 36-28 with 17:21 to go, Virginia responded with an 18-4 run to take a six-point lead.
The run began when Joe Harris hit a 3-pointer from the left wing with 16:11 to play. On North Carolina's next possession, James Michael McAdoo appeared to have an easy dunk, but Darion Atkins blocked McAdoo from behind.
"We were out of position, but Darion just made the great play," Bennett said. "That definitely ignited us, and then I thought our defense took hold. Then, they had to earn what they got the rest of the night."
Virginia got out in transition, and Akil Mitchell put back a Jontel Evans miss to make it 36-33. The run ended when freshman Evan Nolte hit two 3-pointers on consecutive possessions to put the Cavaliers up 46-40 with 8:51 to go.
Virginia opened up a 49-42 lead, its largest advantage of the game to that point, when Harris hit a driving layup and was fouled with 7:06 to play. North Carolina forward Reggie Bullock then got hot, hitting a two 3-pointers before scoring on an offensive putback with 3:11 to play, cutting North Carolina's deficit to 51-50.
The Tar Heels did not make a field goal the rest of the game, managing just two free throws as the Cavaliers pulled away.
"You can't say you're young anymore," North Carolina coach Roy Williams said. "We've played 13 games. For us, it was a breakdown on both ends of the court, really."
Both teams benefitted from the return of injured players. Evans was back in the lineup for Virginia after missing the previous four games with a foot injury. He came off the bench to contribute eight points and a team-high six assists.
"I feel like my foot is good," Evans said. "As you could see (Sunday), I came into my own. I'm back to my old ways a little bit. As the season progresses, I just feel like my performance can just get better."
Evans was impressive just settling his team down after the rough start to the second half. He played 14 minutes in the second half and ranked up four assists without committing a turnover.
"That's pretty good," Williams said. "He dominated the ball."
Bullock, who missed the Tar Heels' previous game against UNLV after suffering a concussion in practice on Dec. 27, had a game-high 22 points.
For North Carolina, it was a disappointing result after the team looked to have turned a corner with a 79-73 win over the Runnin' Rebels on Dec. 29. The effort wasn't the same against the Cavaliers, according to Williams.
"ACC basketball, on the road, all those are good excuses," Williams said. "But we just didn't freakin' play."
The Cavaliers shot 8-for-14 from 3-point range, while the Tar Heels went just 5-for-17.
As a whole, Virginia shot 44.9 percent from the floor and 52 percent in the second half. North Carolina shot just 37.3 percent.
North Carolina led 25-24 at the half despite shooting just 32 percent from the field.
The opening period was closely contested throughout. The Cavaliers led by as many as five, while the Tar Heels never held more than a three-point lead.
The Cavaliers struggled inside the 3-point arc early on but made the most of their long-distance opportunities to keep the game close before halftime. Virginia was 4-for-7 (57.1 percent) from 3-point distance compared to just 5-for-17 (29.4 percent) from 2-point range before the break.
NOTES: North Carolina still leads the all-time series 127-50. ... The Tar Heels began play Sunday as the only undefeated ACC team at the John Paul Jones Arena, having gone 4-0.