In ACC POY battle, Mike Scott stumbles

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. -- Maybe all the buzz -- or the Chuck Norris comparisons --went to Mike Scott's head. In discussions of the potential ACC Player of the Year, Scott's name has repeatedly surfaced, with supporters pointing out his all-around statistical dominance as well as his singular performances.

Another name in that contest? UNC's Tyler Zeller.

Zeller entered the afternoon ranked in the ACC's top 10 in points per game, rebounds per game, blocks per game and field goal percentage. Against the Cavs, he led all scorers with 20 points, including a perfect 6-of-6 from the free throw line, in UNC's 54-51 victory. He also grabbed 6 rebounds.

Scott, who played only 22 minutes because of foul trouble, came into the game as the ACC's active leader in points (1,431) and rebounds (900). He started Saturday ranked among the ACC's top six players in scoring (third), rebounding (sixth), field goal percentage (first) and defensive rebounds.

But on Saturday, Scott managed only a season-low 6 points and 7 rebounds. He started the game 0-for-4 and missed several wide-open jumpers.

What happened?

“I don't know, I just couldn't buy a basket,” Scott said. “I know normally I can make half of those [shots], so I just don't know what it was.”

Scott was in foul trouble early, notching two quick fouls in the first half and sitting with close to 10 minutes remaining. In the second half, he found a brief offensive spark, making two of the Cavaliers' first three baskets. But a foul call at the 16:01 mark put him back on the bench, where he sat for three minutes.

“That felt pretty good, felt like my normal self [making those two shots] and then I just picked up that foul,” Scott said.

Coming back in to the game at the 12:30 mark after Virginia's Akil Mitchell was tagged for his fourth foul, Scott matched up against John Henson at the 12:00 mark under Carolina's basket. After a missed James Michael McAdoo shot, both Scott and Henson went for the ball. Henson recoiled backward and the whistle blew. The call was a foul on Scott, his fourth, sending him back to the bench again. Virginia fans yelled high-decibel level boos toward the referees, venting their anger for several minutes afterward and chanting “Hen-son sucks,” several minutes later as he lined up at the free throw line.

Asked the key to stopping Scott, Henson said, “Get him in foul trouble -- you're not going to be that successful at stopping him offensively since he's such a good offensive player -- probably one of the best offensive big men in the ACC and the country.”

And what about that crucial fourth foul call?

“Oh yeah, I was hit, right there, you know you can go back to the tape or whatever, but it's kind of one of those things where I knew Scott would be going after the ball and he kind of elbow-checked me out there and so, you know, they called the foul,” Henson said. And maybe he gave it a bit of an acting job? “I might've given a little motion,” Henson said with a smile.

Scott didn't feel quite as positive when asked about the play. “I thought I boxed him out, so ...” Scott said. When asked if Henson might've given the play an acting job, Scott added, “I guess I was a little bit too aggressive … I didn't know I was that strong.”

Scott said when the whistle blew, he initially wasn't sure what the call was and thought that maybe he'd stepped out of bounds [rather than been called for a foul]. Still, overall, he said of his day's performance, “I kind of took myself out of the game by getting into foul trouble.”

UNC coach Roy Williams didn't think there was any question over the call, describing it in the postgame press conference: “He [Henson] whipped back because there was an elbow in his face. They went back and looked at it because they were trying to decide if it was something else. I don’t think that John’s that good of an actor, and his face doesn’t run into too many elbows. I’m not saying it was flagrant or anything, but it was a foul. And I don’t think there’s anything to drawing a foul there; you don’t want to draw a foul with your face in somebody’s elbow. That’s not very pleasant.”

While the game stayed close particularly in the second half, with Virginia slowing down many of the Heels' dominant scorers, they still couldn't stop Zeller. His team-leading performance mirrored two weeks ago in Chapel Hill, when he lead all Carolina scorers with 25 points in the win over UVa (in that game, Scott led all Virginia scorers with 18 points).

Cavaliers sophomore Joe Harris admitted it was difficult for Virginia to watch Scott struggle offensively. “He's a great all-around player and it's tough because sometimes we rely on Mike to score the basketball when other guys get a little cold,” he said. “And then him getting into foul trouble, which I felt like took him a little bit out of his rhythm.”

Still, Harris said that the uncharacteristic performance by Scott wouldn't hamper the senior's mentality in Virginia's matchup Thursday against Florida State. “I feel like Mike -- I don't think he ever really loses his confidence regardless of if he's missing shots,” Harris said.

But Scott's shot at the ACC player-of-the-year title took a hit, while Zeller keeps on rolling.