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The Daily Tar Heel

UNC men's basketball blows out VT, 78-56, in first round of ACC Tournament

The Tar Heels kept their season alive and will play Syracuse on Wednesday.

Graduate guard Christian Keeling (55) plays against Virginia Tech's Wabissa Bede (3) during the first round of the ACC tournament in the Greensboro Coliseum Complex on Tuesday, March 10, 2020.

GREENSBORO — North Carolina men’s basketball ran past Virginia Tech, 78-56, in a first-round ACC Tournament matchup on Tuesday that extended its 2020 postseason until at least tomorrow night.

Forward Garrison Brooks scored a team-high 20 for the No. 14 seed Tar Heels, who will play No. 6 Syracuse on Wednesday around 9:30 p.m. Brandon Robinson added 17 for UNC, which out-rebounded the No. 11 Hokies, 45-30, and held them to 29 percent shooting.

What happened?

Robinson scored eight early points, and UNC went on a 17-3 run early in the first half after trailing 4-0. Virginia Tech heated up from deep, though, and fought back to 21-18 with seven minutes to go. North Carolina responded with seven straight points (including a smooth Leaky Black assist to Armando Bacot for a dunk) to keep a 28-18 lead at the under-four timeout.

Virginia Tech’s Landers Nolley scored eight points, including two tough threes, out of that break to will Virginia Tech back into it, but UNC still led 32-26 at half. The Tar Heels shot 36 percent to the Hokies’ 29 percent, and a 23-17 advantage on the boards was key for UNC.

North Carolina scored the first seven points of the second half and, later, took its largest lead of the game at 44-30. Its lead hovered in that range then grew to 20 at the seven-minute mark after consecutive Robinson 3-pointers.  Those shots put UNC ahead 63-43 and forced a Virginia Tech timeout at the seven-minute mark.

Robinson and Brooks kept it going and pushed the Tar Heels’ lead to 25 with five minutes to go. From there, North Carolina slowly subbed out its starters and didn't break much of a sweat/

Who stood out?

Robinson’s five 3-pointers all came at crucial moments: two to the start the game, and three in the late second half run that put UNC ahead by 20-plus.

Brooks continued a scoring tear with 20 points. He’s now gone for 20 or more in seven straight games. And Anthony, UNC’s floor general, contributed 10 points, eight rebounds and four assists.

Hunter Cattoor led Virginia Tech with 14 points.

When was it decided?

UNC led 55-41 midway through the second quarter when Justin Pierce tipped in a Cole Anthony miss.

That shot started a 15-2 run over the next four minutes that pushed North Carolina’s lead to 25 with 5:26 to go. Also within the run were the aforementioned 3-pointers by Robinson, another Pierce tip-in and a wide-open Brooks dunk.

Why does it matter?

UNC, in its worst season ever under head coach Roy Williams, kept its postseason hopes alive with Tuesday’s win. The Tar Heels, who are comfortably under .500, can only make the NCAA Tournament with a conference championship auto-bid.

The win also offered a comparison of how a fully healthy UNC team matches up against opponents. In January, the Tar Heels lost to the Hokies in double overtime without Anthony or Robinson. In this game, both were indispensable assets.

When do they play next?

UNC plays Syracuse Wednesday night around 9:30 pm. in a second-round game. North Carolina won the only meeting between the two teams, 92-79, on the road in late February.

The winner of that game will play third-seeded Louisville on Thursday.


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