Blacksburg, VA — It was another close game for the Hokies, but they managed to pull it out. Tech knocked off UNC 74-70 in a hard fought game in Cassell Coliseum on Thursday night. As expected, turnovers were the difference. The Hokies are now 17-4 overall, with a 4-3 record in the ACC. UNC dropped to 13-9 and 2-5 in conference play.
The Tar Heels outshot the Hokies (43.4% to 38.8%) and outrebounded them (40-36). However, Virginia Tech did a much better job taking care of the basketball. The Hokies were #1 in the conference in turnover margin in ACC games, and the Tar Heels were dead last. Things played out as the statistics indicated they would on Thursday, as UNC committed 19 turnovers to Tech’s 10. The Hokies also had 16 assists for an excellent 16-10 assist-to-turnover ratio.
Overall, Tech got much better guard play than UNC. Even though Malcolm Delaney was just 6-of-17 from the field, he hit several big shots in the second half and made all seven of his free throws while scoring 21 points. He also dished out five assists and had only one turnover, despite playing in foul trouble for much of the game.
Dorenzo Hudson scored 17 points on 6-of-13 shooting, and he was 2-of-5 from three-point range. Terrell Bell gave Tech excellent production, finishing with six points and 11 rebounds. UNC’s four main perimeter players – Larry Drew II, Marcus Ginyard, Dexter Strickland and Will Graves – combined to score only 20 points, which included a meaningless three-pointer at the end of the game. They didn’t come close to matching the production of Delaney, Hudson and Bell.
Tech also got good games from Jeff Allen (14 points, 7 rebounds), J.T. Thompson (8 points, 6 rebounds) and Victor Davila (6 points, 6 rebounds).
The Hokies entered the game as the #4 free throw shooting team in the ACC in conference games, and their numbers went up even more on Thursday night. The Hokies were 18-of-22 (81.8%) from the free throw line, while UNC was just 20-of-30 (66.7%).
Virginia Tech got off to a great start, leading by 12 points on three different occasions in the first half. A jumper by Jeff Allen put the Hokies up 22-10 with 11:45 remaining in the first half, and Tech was playing very sharp on both ends of the court.
With their backs against the wall when it comes to making the NCAA tournament, it was clear that UNC would make a run, however. They did exactly that over the final 11 minutes of the first half. The Tar Heels rallied to take the lead 27-26, and a last second step back jumper in the lane by Larry Drew II put UNC up 35-33 heading into the halftime intermission.
The early portions of the second half were back and forth, and were indicative of the game as a whole. Each team held the lead on four occasions, and there were also four ties during the game. Both teams played each other very evenly in the second half, until the final moments when the Hokies began to pull away.
Tech took the lead for good on a Malcolm Delaney jumper with 14:55 remaining that made the score 44-43. The Hokies went on to lead by as many as nine points in the second half after a Dorenzo Hudson layup and free throw with 9:44 left, but they were never quite able to escape the Tar Heels.
UNC came right back and cut the lead to two points in the final minutes, with Larry Drew II intercepting a pass and taking it the distance for an easy layup. That made the score 69-67 Hokies with 1:09 left in the game.
However, Tech ran off five straight free throws over the next minute to push their lead up to 74-67. Leading 71-67 with 31 seconds left, Terrell Bell blocked a three-pointer from the corner by Marcus Ginyard, and later Bell went on to knock down Tech’s final two free throws of the game to put his team up by seven points. Larry Drew II hit a last second three-pointer to make the final score 74-70, and the Hokies walked into the Cassell Coliseum tunnel as winners.
Tech improved to 11-0 at home this year, and they’ll return to action quickly on Saturday at 4pm when they host Clemson. The Tigers are 16-6 and 4-4 in the ACC, and ranked #35 in the RPI. It’s a chance for the Hokies to get their first Top 50 RPI win of the season, which is critical in the eyes of the NCAA tournament selection committee. Unfortunately, Clemson had the entire week off to prepare, while Virginia Tech will have only tomorrow to get ready for Oliver Purnell’s difficult fullcourt press package.
Clemson was already in Blacksburg Thursday night, so the game will be played regardless of weather conditions. Tip-off is scheduled for 4pm, and it will be a split Raycom telecast. Check your local listings.