BLACKSBURG, Va.— In its first conference game of the year, the No. 18 North Carolina (5-4, 0-1 ACC) fell to the Virginia Tech Hokies (8-1, 1-0 ACC), 80-72, Sunday afternoon at Cassell Coliseum.
The Hokies quickly responded to an early punch after North Carolina opened up a three-point lead. Senior guard Hunter Cattoor’s 3-point basket and a transition floater from graduate forward Grant Basile helped Virginia Tech take a 9-5 lead at the first media timeout.
Sophomore guard Caleb Love picked up his second foul less than four minutes into the game, prompting head coach Hubert Davis to reel out a mixture of lineups off the bench. Over the next eight minutes of play, multiple reserves saw extended minutes, including forwards Tyler Nickel, Dontrez Styles and Justin McKoy.
For part of the bench mob's spurt, the Tar Heels weathered the Hokie Storm as a pair of McKoy free throws cut Virginia Tech’s lead to three. But the Hokies would answer back with a run of their own, capped by senior forward Justyn Mutts’ putback layup which gave the home team a 22-13 lead.
A transition dunk by first-year guard MJ Collins would give the Hokies their largest lead of the game — at 12 points — with 1:29 remaining in the first half. North Carolina would claw its way back within 10 heading into the break, thanks to a Pete Nance made jumper.
Out of the stoppage, the Hokies turned to their preseason All-ACC honoree. Mutts flashed his multi-level scoring abilities, as he converted a pair of drives with layups and canned a 3-pointer from straight away to extend Virginia Tech's lead to 16 points.
North Carolina showed life late in the second half. With 4:55 remaining in the game, the Tar Heels trimmed its deficit to seven points. A newfound defensive intensity and the willingness to drive to the basket helped UNC show a heartbeat.
North Carolina would continue to chip away into the Hokies’ lead, as a Love layup would inch the Tar Heels within three points. But Sean Pedulla’s bucket from distance put the dagger in UNC’s comeback bid, and Virginia Tech prevailed 0-0.