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Friday May 20th

Preview: UNC men's basketball will look to build off home crowd against Virginia Tech

Sophomore guard Leaky Black (1) dribbles during the first-round game of the ACC tournament against Virginia Tech in the Greensboro Coliseum Complex on Tuesday, March 10, 2020. UNC beat Virginia Tech 78-56.
Buy Photos Sophomore guard Leaky Black (1) dribbles during the first-round game of the ACC tournament against Virginia Tech in the Greensboro Coliseum Complex on Tuesday, March 10, 2020. UNC beat Virginia Tech 78-56.

On Saturday night, the North Carolina men’s basketball team had yet another rude awakening after its loss to Wake Forest. 

The Tar Heels were — yet again — lacking the energy, effort and toughness head coach Hubert Davis has stressed all season, as they were manhandled by the Demon Deacons in a 98-76 defeat — one where Wake Forest had a 30-point scorer and nearly three 20-plus point scorers. 

On Monday, North Carolina will look to pick up the steam again against a Virginia Tech team that has had some problems of its own this season — both in and out of conference.

This Virginia Tech team relies on its cast of upperclassmen, as all five of its leading scorers are juniors or older. One of these players is forward Justyn Mutts, who scored 24 points in last year's ACC Tournament quarterfinal. 

However, the Tar Heels will be at home at the Dean E. Smith Center, where they have been undefeated, with double-digit wins against Michigan and Virginia. Meanwhile, they have gone 3-6 away from home, losing forgettable games against Tennessee, Kentucky and Miami. 

Here are some things UNC will need to do Monday to remain unbeaten at home.

Feed off the crowd

After a road loss to Notre Dame this season, sophomore guard Caleb Love said the team thrives off the energy from UNC fans. Judging by the dominance the Tar Heels have shown at home, it’s hard to say he’s wrong in that assessment. 

Therefore, even against a weaker Virginia Tech team, North Carolina can’t underestimate the Hokies and start off slowly.

The Tar Heels need to do what they’ve done well at home this season and set the tone early to keep the fans out of their seats after “Jump Around” plays. And there’s no need to try to perform the extraordinary to make this happen — just feed the ball to junior forward Armando Bacot, who has put up numbers this season, topped by a 29-point, 22-rebound game against Virginia. Even in “subpar” games, Bacot has put in noteworthy performances, with double doubles in nine-straight games.

But it’s going to take more than just Bacot to get a win on Monday. Davis will need the entire team to show up if he wants to not end up in a last-minute thriller against a bottom-of-the-barrel ACC team in Virginia Tech.

Control the 3-point line

In all three of UNC’s ACC losses, the Tar Heels were mightily outperformed from beyond the arc. One way the Tar Heels can set the tone and establish dominance over the Hokies is to control the 3-point line, both offensively and defensively. 

In the loss against Miami, the Tar Heels shot 6-for-30 while the Hurricanes went 13-for-28, making seven more 3s on two fewer attempts. During a stretch that lasted just over a minute at the beginning of the game, the Hurricanes made three-straight 3s, and the 9-0 run helped them take a lead they would never give back. 

Compare this to the Georgia Tech game in which the Tar Heels shut down then-ACC-leading scorer Michael Devoe, limiting him to two points and holding the Yellow Jackets to only three triples on the game. Meanwhile, sophomore guard RJ Davis led the 3-point barrage for the Tar Heel starters, who shot a combined 9-for-19 from deep.

Defending the 3-point line will be crucial as the Tar Heels face the Hokies, who lead the ACC in 3-point percentage. But if the Tar Heels want to feed off the crowd and set the tone right from the jump, 3-pointers will need to be a part of Monday's game plan.  

@noahmnroe

@dthsports | sports@dailytarheel.com

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