In the North Carolina men’s basketball team’s ACC opener at Virginia, the Tar Heels showed off their toughness, using lockdown defense to make a second-half comeback and pull out a 62-56 victory.
Tonight at home against Virginia Tech, UNC will have to prove its consistency.
“At times this year we’ve been really good defensively, and at other times we have not,” UNC coach Roy Williams said. “Last week, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday were better than this team had ever practiced. We were flying around, we were talking, we were doing all this stuff, then we got up there and couldn’t guard a bathtub. Gee, so, who knows?”
Tonight’s contest is the first of three the Tar Heels will play in a six-day span that will test their mettle. Williams has used a 10-man rotation throughout the season, a tactic he believes will bolster the Tar Heels’ stamina as they move further into ACC play.
Leading the charge off the UNC bench will be Leslie McDonald, the sophomore shooting guard whose improvement from a lackluster freshman campaign has given the Tar Heels a reliable 3-point shooter. McDonald has shot 45 percent from behind the arc compared to a meager 21 percent a year ago.
“Last year, I wasn’t as confident,” McDonald said. “I think that came with the thought of being a freshman and just being put out there on that broadcast. But now being a sophomore, having a little games under my wing and being able to work on my shooting has really brought my confidence along.”
UNC’s depth will be especially significant against a banged-up Virginia Tech squad that entered the year ranked No. 21 but began faltering at the end of November with three straight losses to UNLV, Purdue and Virginia. The Hokies also fell victim to season-ending foot injuries to forward Cadarian Raines and All-ACC guard Dorenzo Hudson. Coach Seth Greenberg now has just eight scholarship players at his disposal.
Fortunately for Greenberg, he still has the services of seniors Jeff Allen and Malcolm Delaney. Allen has posted a double-double in five of his last six games — all of which were Virginia Tech victories. In the backcourt, the Hokies boast in two-time All-ACC selection Delaney one of the ACC’s best point guards. The senior has paced the Hokies by averaging 18.6 points and 4.0 assists per game.
“He’s a load to guard and has been ever since his freshman year,” Williams said. “He is a difficult matchup, and you’ve got to get some help from the other people and you’ve got to try to fight to not let him get it exactly where he wants it.”