For once, North Carolina was able to close out a game strong. The Tar Heels had allowed late leads to evaporate in their last two outings, blowing double-digit leads in a loss to College of Charleston and letting Albany finish on a 23-2 run the game before — but not this time.
“I told ’em, we’re not gonna let that happen again,” Larry Drew II said.
The Tar Heels’ point guard was instrumental in creating a 16-4 run in the closing minutes against Virginia Tech. Drew finished with 14 points and eight assists, and kept North Carolina on an even keel while finishing off the first ACC opponent of the year.
It’s no secret that the Tar Heels lack depth at the point, and in the absence of Marcus Ginyard, Drew has emerged as one of the players most essential to the Tar Heels’ success. After an awful first half in which he didn’t take a shot, the sophomore got the fast break rolling and helped North Carolina take control against the Hokies.
“When Larry’s pushing the ball like we know he can and getting to the rack, he looked like a totally different player than he did in the first half,” Deon Thompson said.
When Drew’s in foul trouble, it hasn’t ended well — he had four fouls in losses to Texas and Charleston — and the first half of Sunday’s game was no exception.
He struggled to stay in front of Virginia Tech’s Malcolm Delaney in the first half, as the agile guard piled up 20 of his 26 points. Meanwhile, Drew wasn’t piling up anything except fouls.
Delaney, the conference’s second-leading scorer, came into the game with an ailing ankle, but he still had the blazing quickness to get loose off of screens and break free on the dribble.
With 7:44 to go in the period, Drew picked up his third foul trying to harass Delaney and was sent to the bench. The guard came back to orchestrate one last scoring play before halftime, while the Tar Heels struggled with their tempo.
They threw up wild tip-ins, pushed the ball when they didn’t have an advantage and let the Hokies go into halftime with a four-point lead.
So in the second half, coach Roy Williams put a three-man rotation on Delaney and shifted Drew to another assignment so he could avoid picking up a fourth foul.
The results were immediate: the point guard fed Ed Davis twice for dunks and made a pair of free throws after being hacked on a drive. Just like that, the game was tied at 40.
Meanwhile, Delaney had much more trouble turning the corner, especially against Ginyard, who stayed step-for-step with him on screens. The Hokies’ leading scorer had just six points in the second half, though he kept on drawing fouls right up until the end.
“We got fresh people on him, and when you add that to the fact that his ankle starting bothering him more in the second half than the first half, I think that helped us,” Williams said.
Drew, who was 4-for-4 from the field and made a pair of 3-pointers in the second half, had his mind clear and had the Tar Heels rolling.
Ginyard remains the player that Williams’ team turns to when times get rough, but his absence in the last three games has shown that he isn’t the only player who can lead the Tar Heels.
“Nobody really said anything (to me), I just took it upon myself,” Drew said.
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