North Carolina ended Virginia Tech’s season by a score of 78-56 in the opening round of the ACC Tournament on Tuesday night. The Hokies finished Mike Young’s first season with a 16-16 record, while the Tar Heels improved to 14-18. They’ll go on to play Syracuse on Wednesday night.
Virginia Tech got out to a quick 4-0 lead, but then proceeded to miss nine consecutive shots as the Tar Heels gradually built a lead. UNC led 12-4 at the 14:44 mark of the first half, and were up by double digits 17-7 with 12:19 to play. The Hokies clawed back, and by the 6:43 mark they had cut the lead to 21-18 following a three-pointer by Hunter Cattoor.
However, the Tar Heels went on a quick 7-0 run to regain a 10-point advantage 28-18 with 5:33 left in the half. The Hokies closed strong, with Landers Nolley – who was scoreless to that point – scoring the final eight points of the half for his team. UNC’s lead was 32-26 at halftime. Tech was down, but within striking distance.
The hot end to the half didn’t continue in the second half for Nolley, who scored just two points in the final 20 minutes to finish with 10 points. The Tar Heels extended their lead to 10 points with 18 minutes remaining in the game, 36-26, and the Hokies never again cut it to single digits. UNC gradually extended the lead throughout the half, and Tech was never able to get back into the game.
In the first meeting between the two teams, a double overtime victory for Virginia Tech, the Hokies held the much bigger Tar Heels to six offensive rebounds and just two second chance points, an impressive feat against a team that ranks No. 13 nationally in offensive rebound percentage. However, this time around UNC grabbed 13 offensive rebounds and scored 15 second chance points. They outscored the Hokies 32-12 in the paint.
Cattoor led the Hokies with 14 points off the bench. He was 5-of-11 from the field and 4-of-10 from the outside. Jalen Cone added 11 points, while Nolley scored 10. PJ Horne spent much of the game in foul trouble, and John Ojiako filled in with four points, seven rebounds and two blocks. Wabissa Bede finished with five points, five assists, five rebounds and two blocks.
North Carolina’s height was particularly effective when the Hokies drove to the basket. Tech went just 6-of-14 on layup attempts over taller UNC players, as a member of the media pointed out after the game.
“They are big down there, so when you get down there in the lane they kind of force you to get it up a little higher, but some of those were on me,” Jalen Cone said. “I’m going to see that in the film to where I actually should have kept my dribble alive and got it out to one of my shooters because they like to crash. But we just weren’t knocking down shots that we normally make tonight.”
Senior guard Brandon Robinson, who missed the first meeting between these teams with an injury, finished with 17 points. Cole Anthony, who also missed that game, had 10 points, eight rebounds and four assists. Garrison Brooks led the Tar Heels with 20 points.
Mike Young had this to say about Virginia Tech’s season as a whole, and what the future holds for the Hokies:
“Considering what I found on April 8th with good players graduating – 7-13 is never going to be good enough in Blacksburg nor should it be…16-16 is never going to be good enough in Blacksburg, nor should it be – But to cobble that together and do so with some really quality people and scrap and claw and some great moments, some not-so-great moments, but we’re off and running now, if you will. Things are in place. The foundation is in place. We start back with our spring workouts and it’s not new. We have done it. We know what we’re looking at now. We know how things are going to operate and how we’re going to run. And I am looking forward to that.”