The contest for Virginia Tech against this year’s UNC squad played out in a similar fashion, with Hokie guard Jalen Cone doing his best Fletcher Magee impression. But make no mistake, this wasn’t an upset by any stretch of the imagination — definitely not with the Tar Heels now two games below .500.
And with senior guard Brandon Robinson’s name added to a laundry list of players out for UNC more than an hour before tip off, the outcome should’ve been expected.
Ever since a knee injury sidelined star first-year point guard Cole Anthony — who’s due to return any day now — UNC has limped to a 2-7 record, underperforming in nearly every facet of the game. Defensive struggles on the perimeter have been especially glaring, though.
In nine games without Anthony, opponents have shot 35 percent or better six times; they’ve drilled at least seven threes seven times.
Wednesday night was no different. Once again, the Tar Heels didn’t have enough firepower to respond down the stretch.
“Some of the guys are learning some things about themselves,” Williams said.
Oh, and this is with UNC sinking seven threes of its own, the team’s most since its mid-December loss at Gonzaga. It’s no wonder the players themselves are out of answers.
“I can live with the result,” forward Garrison Brooks said, hanging his head in the visiting locker room after the game. “We gave it our all and just came up a little bit short.”
Brooks did what he’s done since Anthony’s been gone — the 6-foot-9 junior led his team offensively, this time with a game-high 28 points. In the second overtime, he scored six of the Tar Heels’ nine total points, hitting a turnaround jumper in the paint to tie the game seconds before Hokie guard Tyrece Radford came down and made the game-winning layup.
Graduate forward Justin Pierce also pitched in 15 points, his most in ACC play. Sophomore guard Leaky Black hit a career-high three 3-pointers.
Still, it wasn’t enough. Not with Virginia Tech burying 14 of its 37 attempts from deep. Certainly not with Cone nailing six shots from beyond the arc himself, with two of those coming late in regulation to help the Hokies come back from seven down with four minutes to go and force overtime.
“I think I played about as hard as I could,” junior guard Andrew Platek said. “It sucks, to be honest … I don’t think I’ve ever been on a losing team in my life.”
Leading up in preparation for the contest, Brooks said there was an emphasis on the team’s familiarity with what those old Young-coached Wofford teams did best. UNC played them the past two seasons, winning narrowly last year and falling in an upset the year before.
But there aren’t nearly as many weapons on this Tar Heel squad as there were on either of those teams. So, naturally, this wasn’t as much of a stunner as that 2017 matchup in the Dean Dome.
This one was expected, or at least it should’ve been. And the only emotion Young felt after the final buzzer sounded?
“Relief,” he said. “I feel relieved to have won another ACC game on a night when North Carolina played a good ballgame. They played a good ballgame.”
But for the Tar Heels on this night, like many others this season, it simply wasn’t enough.
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