The Daily Tar Heel

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Wednesday February 8th

Cold perimeter shooting dooms No. 25 UNC in ACC Tournament loss to Virginia Tech

Sophomore guard Caleb Love (2) controls the ball at the semifinals of the ACC tournament against Virginia Tech at the Barclays Center on March 11, 2022. UNC lost 72-59.
Buy Photos Sophomore guard Caleb Love (2) controls the ball at the semifinals of the ACC tournament against Virginia Tech at the Barclays Center on March 11, 2022. UNC lost 72-59.

BROOKLYN, N.Y. — When the lights were the brightest, the rims felt the smallest.

After two years of dwelling in the basement of national 3-point proficiency — ranking 313th in 2020 and 268th in 2021 —  the Tar Heels took a step forward this season by nailing over 36 percent of their triples.

With its NCAA Tournament resume rapidly improving following two of its biggest wins of the season, another dominant display against Virginia Tech could have stamped North Carolina’s ticket to a "threematch" with Duke in the ACC Championship and solidified a more favorable seed in the Big Dance.

Instead, it all came crashing down.

On Friday night in Brooklyn, the Tar Heels were chilled on the perimeter — shooting just 3-26 from deep in a lopsided 72-59 loss to the Hokies. 

“Particularly in the first half, I felt like we got good looks from three, we just missed them,” head coach Hubert Davis said. “Then in the second half, I felt a lot of our threes were forced. They were switching a lot and their physicality bothered us.”

Just six days removed from being the perimeter heroes in UNC’s signature win over Duke, Caleb Love and RJ Davis were stymied by Virginia Tech’s gritty defense and, ultimately, were two of the main culprits of the forced shot selection their head coach described.

As a litany of long step-back jumpers and contested floaters bounced off the rim — or sometimes, missed everything entirely — the sophomore guards combined to shoot just 5-27 from the floor when it was all said and done.

“We had an edge to us all night defensively, we had had a good pop,” Virginia Tech head coach Mike Young said. “I thought our defense really carried us.”

Although the Tar Heels struggled to gain any kind of offensive rhythm, especially in the first half, they only faced a manageable six-point deficit entering the break.

But as North Carolina continued to clank away attempts from deep, the Hokies dialed in.

After starting the game missing 14 of its first 18 shots, Virginia Tech switched to a four-guard lineup that provided spacing and trouble defensively for UNC’s more physically imposing frontcourt.

“With their small lineup, there was always an opportunity where there was one of our bigs guarding their guards,” Davis said. “Now Armando (Bacot), now Brady (Manek) are having to guard perimeter players coming off of down screens and (dribble handoffs) — those are things they don't necessarily do very much.”

As UNC attempted to chip away at a deficit that ballooned to 20 points, the lack of a viable perimeter threat forced the team to reestablish its will inside. Bacot, who recorded his program-record 25th double-double of the season, tried to bring his team life, but was swarmed by the Hokies' aggressive double-teams coming from the baseline. 

“Early on, a lot of my reads, it kind of threw off my timing on passes and stuff just because they did a good job on the weak side playing between two men,” Bacot said. "It's kind of hard, and I like going baseline a lot, so it definitely affected a lot of things we were trying to get into."

While UNC was battling the physical Virginia Tech defense on one front, the team was also battling arithmetic on the other – three points will always be worth more than two.

When the game hung in the balance, the Tar Heels’ hard-fought 22 second half points in the paint could barely separate them from the 15 points they allowed from five relatively easy shots from the perimeter.  

After making a statement by winning 12 of their last 15 games, shots were all the only thing UNC failed to make on Friday night.

Now stumbling into its presumed NCAA Tournament appearance following two subpar shooting performances from the perimeter in Brooklyn, it's clear that stretching the floor will be the Tar Heels' only shot to do something special.

@hunternelson_1 

@dthsports | sports@dailytarheel.com

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