BLACKSBURG, Va. — It took an extra half of play, but No. 8 North Carolina got its bounce-back game in an 82-68 win against Virginia Tech.
The only problem was, it lost guard Dexter Strickland to an undetermined right knee injury in the process.
“I hate it for Dexter,” UNC coach Roy Williams said.
Strickland was attempting a running shot when he planted his foot and fell to the ground clutching behind his right knee in pain, which he said “hurt like hell.”
The junior’s knee will be X-rayed Friday, and although he said it felt a little better after the game, the unknown looms large.
“We’re going to have to make up a lot defensively,” center Tyler Zeller said of the prospects of playing without Strickland. “Hopefully he just sprained something and it’s not a tear where he’d have to have surgery.”
Strickland was optimistic.
And the game also carried with it an uplifting result for the Tar Heels (16-3, 3-1 ACC) despite a slow start.
At times, UNC’s win against Virginia Tech (11-7, 0-4) hardly looked like a bounce-back performance and eerily resembled Saturday’s 90-57 trouncing. Call it the first half.
“Well the good thing is it’s two different halves,” Williams said. “The first half I thought we played pretty well to be honest with you … I thought it totally, totally was our defense in the second half was so much more active.”
UNC wasn’t terrible in the first half. More than anything, the Hokies were really good.
Dorenzo Hudson shot so well from three in the first half that the basket must have looked like it did to Deividas Dulkys at Florida State.
Hudson wasn’t the only one stroking it from long range. Erick Green was making shots, and as a team, Virginia Tech made half of its 3-pointers in the first half.
The Tar Heels didn’t just struggle to keep up with Virginia Tech’s shooting, they struggled to defend it. The Hokies’ ball movement kept UNC a step behind while Virginia Tech often beat UNC up the floor for easy buckets.
“We’re supposed to be a running team and Virginia Tech ran it 100 times better than we did in the first half,” Williams said.
But one thing showed up that never made the trip to Tallahassee — Harrison Barnes. Sure Barnes led UNC in scoring that game, but not this Barnes.
In the second half on Thursday, Barnes was nothing short of relentless en route to his season-high 27 points.
Put it this way: Barnes had 21 points after halftime. The Hokies scored 29.
The Tar Heels were certainly a different team after halftime.
“You’re only as good as your last game,” Williams said.
By his standards, the loss to FSU no longer defines his team.
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