Virginia Tech played #2 UNC tough down to the wire, but ultimately lost 75-70 in a great game in Cassell Coliseum on Sunday afternoon. The Hokies dropped to 12-8 overall and 4-3 in the ACC, while the Tar Heels improved to 18-2 and 7-0.
This game looked like it was going to get out of hand early. The Hokies made just three of their first 17 shot attempts, and the Tar Heels used their impressive size and athletic ability to jump out to a 36-16 lead with 5:48 remaining in the first half. It looked like the home team was going to get blown out in a big way.
However, as they’ve done in previous games this season, the Hokies battled back. They closed the half on an 18-3 run and trailed just 39-34 at halftime. They also started the second half strong by outscoring the Tar Heels 7-3 in the opening 1:31. Overall, they went on a 25-6 run that spanned the end of the first half and the beginning of the second half, and found themselves trailing just 42-41 with 18:29 remaining in the game.
“You just can’t look at the scoreboard,” Seth Allen said of overcoming such a large deficit. “You’ve got to keep on fighting.”
The teams settled into a back and forth game, but eventually UNC was able to build a 57-49 lead with 11:01 left. However, Tech responded once again with back-to-back three-pointers from Jalen Hudson and Zach LeDay to stay in the ball game. At that point, it was anybody’s game.
At the 8:05 mark, the Hokies took their first lead on a Kerry Blackshear basket to make the score 61-59. It would be the only time Virginia Tech led, but the game was tied on two more occasions, and it eventually went down to the wire.
Unfortunately, the Hokies weren’t able to get shots off on two late possessions, as both Zach LeDay and Seth Allen committed turnovers against tight UNC defense. The Tar Heels switched to a zone late in the game, and Tech didn’t have a great response, though they had attacked that zone successfully earlier in the game.
Still, the Hokies had one more chance to win or force overtime. Trailing 74-70 with eight seconds left, Justin Bibbs’ right wing three-pointer went halfway down, but bounced out, similar to Seth Allen’s potential game winning shot at Notre Dame. UNC was able to make one last free throw, and the game ended on a missed three-pointer by Allen.
Zach LeDay paced the Hokies with 17 points. Jalen Hudson added 14 points, Kerry Blackshear had 12, while Allen finished with 11. Allen led the team in rebounds with five, and he also had two steals.
Despite two straight tough ACC losses, the progress this team has made is obvious. It will be tough for them to overcome their lack of size on some nights, but they have proven that they can play with anybody.
“It’s hard to say you’re making progress when you’re losing,” Jalen Hudson said. “But I feel like we’re learning a lot from our losses. We haven’t been losing in the same way, I feel like…once we get a little bit deeper and we’re in one or two possession games, I feel like we’ll win them.”
Virginia Tech was not expected to be competitive in conference play this season. Nevertheless, they are embracing the underdog role.
“Nobody expects us to win,” Seth Allen said. “We were picked 14th in the league. We’ve just got to keep on fighting, man.”
The Hokies will be underdogs once again on Wednesday night when #16 Louisville comes to town. Tipoff is scheduled for 8pm, and the game will be televised by The ACC Network. Check your local listings.