In a near must-win game, the North Carolina men’s basketball team (19-8, 11-5 ACC) defeated Virginia Tech (16-11, 8-8), 65-57, to bolster its NCAA Tournament chances.
Despite a slow start for both the Tar Heels and the Hokies — it took over seven minutes for both sides to reach double-digits — the first half was tightly contested.
Virginia Tech held a small lead throughout much of the first half, but UNC hung around and took a lead in the final five minutes of the frame. North Carolina taking the lead was largely due to impressive shooting numbers, as the Tar Heels maintained shooting clips over 50 percent from the field and over 45 percent from deep throughout the half. Conversely, the Hokies went just 2-11 from beyond the arc.
When UNC has looked good this season, the team has been led by its guard play, and that was the case early on Saturday. Sophomore guards Caleb Love and RJ Davis combined for 20 points and six assists in the first 20 minutes, and North Carolina went into the break leading, 38-30.
North Carolina’s hot shooting continued to start the second half, but turnovers plagued the team. The Tar Heels lead ballooned to double-digits by the 10-minute mark, but four early giveaways kept them from fully pulling away.
Midway through the half, the Hokies worked their way back into the game. A 7-0 Virginia Tech run made it 49-44 UNC with just over eight minutes to go. After this short burst from the Hokies, North Carolina took back control of the game and never let it go.
The final minutes of the game were slow and low-scoring, but poor second half shooting from the Hokies sealed the Tar Heels only current Quad 1 win of the season. Virginia Tech shot just 34.5 percent from the field in the final 20 minutes and UNC came away with a 65-57 win.
Who stood out?
Love led the way in the scoring department for the Tar Heels, finishing with a game-high 21 points and seven assists. When North Carolina has been at its best this season, so has Love. The point guard’s success will be instrumental for UNC with an NCAA Tournament bid hanging in the balance.
As he has done all season, junior forward Armando Bacot was the driving force for the Tar Heels in the paint. He finished with another double-double, scoring 12 points and grabbing 15 rebounds.
When was it decided?
While it was close until the end, North Carolina all but secured the victory after stifling Virginia Tech’s run in the middle of the second half.
Despite letting a double-digit lead shrink to five points in this stretch, UNC’s defensive efforts helped the team pull through when the offense went cold late in the game. Holding the Hokies to under 20 percent from three on the afternoon was key in securing the victory.
Why does it matter?
Coming off their worst loss of the season to Pittsburgh, the Tar Heels earned their best on-paper win of the season Saturday.
Entering the game, Virginia Tech was ranked 37 in the NCAA’s NET rankings — so with this game being on the road, the victory was North Carolina’s first Quad 1 win of the season. Just a few weeks from Selection Sunday, this victory could go a long way in ensuring UNC is on the right side of the bubble come March.
When do they play next?
The Tar Heels will be back in Chapel Hill on Monday to face Louisville at 7 p.m.
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