No. 7 North Carolina, Bacot Punish Virginia Tech In The Paint In 96-81 Win

UNC’s bigs were too much for Lynn Kidd and Virginia Tech’s foul-plagued frontcourt Saturday. (Virginia Tech athletics)

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — Mike Young was a guard in his playing days — “A really bad guard,” he notes — so he never had to bang with big bodies in his day, let alone anyone as physically imposing and active as North Carolina’s Armando Bacot. 

“Can you imagine wrestling that man?” Young asked after the Hokies’ 96-81 loss at No. 7 North Carolina on Saturday. “He is a man.” 

Bacot led the charge in UNC’s dominant low-post and rebounding effort at the Dean Smith Center, scoring a game-high 25 points and grabbing 12 rebounds as the Tar Heels overwhelmed the Hokies’ thin, foul-plagued frontcourt. 

First-place North Carolina (20-6, 12-3 ACC) scored 54 points in the paint, its second-highest total this season, and out-rebounded the Hokies by a 43-31 margin to nearly double up Tech in second-chance points.

While plenty of Tar Heels cleaned up the boards — forward Harrison Ingram grabbed a game-high 17, with 12 coming in the first half — it was the fifth-year senior Bacot who made the Hokies pay the most in the post, repeatedly getting position close to the basket and making simple work with a variety of post moves.

“He outworked them,” UNC coach Hubert Davis said. 

“When a post player catches it deep, and he was catching it close to the box or two feet in the paint, it’s really, really hard,” Young said. “He just turns and rises up over you and shoots it. So a really good player beat us today. … A good team beat us today. I don’t know that it’s any more than that.”

Mike Young and the Hokies had few answers for North Carolina’s low-post athleticism. (Virginia Tech athletics)

It was the most points Virginia Tech (14-11, 6-8 ACC) had surrendered all season. RJ Davis scored 20 points and Cormac Ryan 16 for the Heels, with the guard duo combining to go 7-for-15 from 3-point range.

Tech had six players score in double figures, led by MJ Collins with 18 points and Mylyjael Poteat with 15. The Hokies haven’t won in the Dean Dome since 2007, a streak of eight games.

North Carolina established itself down low almost from the start, taking advantage of Virginia Tech’s early foul trouble to build up a 50-39 halftime lead.

All three of the Hokies’ primary frontcourt players — Lynn Kidd, Poteat and Robbie Beran — picked up two fouls in the first half, with Hunter Cattoor joining them, a hurdle Young called “brutal.” (Kidd wound up playing just 15 minutes in the game because of fouls.)

It forced Tech to play seldom-used true freshman center Patrick Wessler (7-0) for a stretch, with UNC taking advantage of the Hokies’ bare-bones and foul-conscious frontcourt. The Heels had almost as many rebounds offensively (9) in the first half as the Hokies did overall (13).

Still, the Hokies hung around, in large part thanks to hot 3-point shooting. Former UNC player Tyler Nickel and Collins combined to go 5-for-8 from long range in the first half, with a Nickel triple and two free throws from Jaydon Young getting Tech within 44-39 with just under three minutes left.

UNC closed the half with a 6-0 run, though, pushing the lead back to 11 after a free throw, a Davis 3 and an Elliot Cadeau basket as the Hokies had three empty possessions.

That dynamic stuck in the second half: Any time the Hokies clawed back to single digits, UNC had an answer.

Tech got within 70-62 with 10:04 left when Ryan drained a 3 and Bacot banked in a shot to push the lead back to 13.

Tyler Nickel made four 3-pointers and scored 14 points in his return to Chapel Hill, but UNC kept the Hokies comfortably at bay. (Virginia Tech athletics)

A few minutes later, the Hokies trimmed the lead to seven at 79-72, as close as it would be in the second half. Davis answered with a putback after one of Nickel’s career-high three blocks, then Bacot scored four points in a 5-0 run to push the lead back to a comfortable 13 that didn’t get back to single digits. 

“Sometimes good offense beats good defense,” Young said, “and [Bacot’s] good defense beat our good defense routinely, needless to say.”

It didn’t help that Tech’s shooting went ice cold. The Hokies, who were 6-for-11 on threes at one point, missed their first 10 shots from long range in the second half and were 1 of their last 15 from 3-point land. 

“Sometimes that’s just how the game is,” said Nickel, who had four of the team’s seven threes and finished with 14 points. “Sometimes you just go through cold stretches, have unfortunate nights, unfortunate halves or whatever the case is. And we just kind of got collectively cold. We were getting good looks. We just couldn’t hit them.”

“You better score with them because they’re going to score,” Young said.

The Hokies’ starting backcourt was particularly frigid. Cattoor and Sean Pedulla were 1-for-10 on threes and were just 6-for-23 from the field overall, cobbling together 21 points, nine below their season average.

Trying to spark something, Young sat Pedulla down for the final 9:13, handing over point guard duties to Collins, who went 7-for-15 from the field and dished out three assists.

“I’m trying to win the game, all right?” Young said. “I wanted to see what we’ve got, and I liked the pop that that team played with and how the ball moved. Trying to win the game. Trying to win the game and see if we could put ourselves in a position to do that.”

“That’s what I grew up as, a point guard,” Collins said. “I like to make plays for myself, but more importantly for my teammates, trying to get them in the best situation. So that’s what I feel comfortable at. I just try to do whatever my team needs.”

MJ Collins handled point guard duties down the stretch, finishing with a team-high 18 points. (Virginia Tech athletics)

The loss keeps the Hokies squarely in line for a Tuesday date in the ACC Tournament, currently as the 11th seed. Tech has a short turnaround before returning to action against a completely different style, with plodding, defensive-minded Virginia coming to Cassell Coliseum on Monday night (7 p.m. ET, ESPN).

The Cavaliers aren’t always pretty (witness their 49-47 win over Wake Forest on Saturday), but they’ve won nine of their last 10, including a 65-57 victory over Tech in the teams’ first meeting in Charlottesville on Jan. 17.

“Another good team that’s going to challenge us,” Nickel said. “We have to find a way to get the job done.”

Box Score: North Carolina 96, Virginia Tech 81

12 Responses You are logged in as Test

  1. The sky never falls but Tech bb is a middle of the road team. That’s where we’ve been for the 50 + years I’ve been supporting them. Gets old and discouraging.

  2. I am proud of our effort but …. one thing I don’t get is: our big men were in foul trouble so basically it seems they are told not to foul thus leading to easy baskets. Heck I’d rather someone foul out than just let the offensive playing shoot uncontested shots.

    1. MY never seems to try a ZONE at all. Not even for 3-5 minutes. Women’s team using it effectively against teams that are easily driving to the basket against their man-to-man. Pretty standard to try a zone to protect a center in trouble.

  3. Didn’t expect a win. Tech battled. Had a few chances to make it closer at the end but just couldn’t get it done.

  4. Just a tough loss against a team that was hitting on all cylinders. UNC IS as good as they looked and we are not as bad as we looked. Just one of those “Imperfect storms”.

  5. Idk; watching this game at times made me think there wasn’t going to be much of an answer. It is deflating and yes, the 2022 ACCT run was just a special moment.

  6. After a loss, on the road, to the #7 team in the USA. The sky is falling. The sky is falling. Squawk. Squawk.

  7. VT is returning to its mediocre self in ACC play. The 2022 ACC Championship will likely turn out to be an outlier to the CMY era.

    1. After a loss, on the road, to the #7 team in the USA. The sky is falling. The sky is falling. Squawk. Squawk.

      1. Do you see positive signs or progress since the ACCT win? They’re just barely OK, that would be the definition of mediocre. So you want to be Pollyanna to his Chicken Little at least we have balance.

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