The sixth-seeded North Carolina basketball team (18-9, 10-6 ACC) wore off the third-seeded Virginia Tech (15-6, 9-4) en route to a 81-73 win. The Hokies came out with physicality in the first half, but the Tar Heels responded with a strong second half run to take the victory.
The Tar Heels struggled to find a rhythm from the jump, despite the return of senior forward Garrison Brooks. After the senior rattled in a tough fadeaway jumper, offense was hard to come by. The Tar Heels settled for low percentage shots away from the paint, putting them in an early 7-2 hole at the first media timeout.
The Hokies came in well-rested and they showed it. They brought physicality early on and North Carolina struggled to adjust to it. The Tar Heels' bigs were noticeably quiet in the opening half and offensive rebounding was almost nonexistent. It took until the 10:46 mark for a UNC player to score in the paint. High turnover numbers also returned for the Tar Heels — as they committed five in the first ten minutes. But still, North Carolina kept the game close.
The Tar Heels took a 19-18 lead at the 9:09 mark, their first since going up 2-0 in the first minute, after first-year Caleb Love knocked in a 3-pointer. He followed that shot up with a fast break jumper to extend the lead to three. Love and the rest of North Carolina’s first-years helped erase the deficit, scoring 18 of UNC's final 22 points the opening frame.
But the Tar Heels couldn’t build on their lead and the Hokies fought back. Virginia Tech found success cutting behind the North Carolina defense for open layups. The final few minutes of the opening half consisted of each team trading buckets before Virginia Tech went into the locker room with a 35-32 advantage.
The Hokies missed several easy layups to begin the second half, which let UNC crawl back and tie the game at 40. Junior Leaky Black led the charge with two long-range jump shots, including his first 3-pointer since Feb. 6 against Duke. The Tar Heels would eventually take the lead just over six minutes in. Signs of their typical dominance on the offensive glass returned, which aided the Tar Heels against a scrappy Virginia Tech frontcourt.
First-year guard RJ Davis fueled UNC to a nine-point lead with under eight minutes remaining. UNC;s bigs were having a much easier time finding looks in the paint, showing the comfort and aggression they lacked to start the game.
Virginia Tech’s long break caught up with them. The Hokies started to look gassed as they repeatedly took blows from UNC's frontcourt. Any time Virginia Tech tried cutting into the lead, North Carolina responded with timely buckets. The Tar Heels were able to secure the 81-73 victory by way of a dominant second half.
Who stood out?
Davis had one of his better games in Carolina Blue, putting up a team-high 19 points and four 3-pointers. He was the source of North Carolina's second half run. His steal and deep shots energized his teammates — something the Tar Heels lacked early on.
After a quiet first half, Bacot came alive. He used his strength to muscle out boards and make contested shots in the paint. He finished with 17 points on 7-9 shooting and tallied a team-high 13 rebounds.
When was it decided?
Davis’ six straight points gave the Tar Heels much-needed breathing room, which they were able to sustain. The lead hovered between five and 10 until the final buzzer.
Why does it matter?
This victory puts the Tar Heels in an ACC semifinal matchup against Florida State, moving them one step closer to an ACC Tournament title.
It was the first time in nearly three weeks UNC was able to pick up consecutive wins. Now, they have a chance at competing for a possible seven-seed in the NCAA Tournament to avoid playing a first-seed during the opening weekend.
When do they play next?
North Carolina will face the second-seeded Seminoles on Friday at 9 p.m.
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