By R.L. Bynum
NEW YORK — Making up big deficits has never been easy for this North Carolina team and that didn’t change Friday night in an ACC Tournament semifinal.
The No. 3-seed Tar Heels fell behind No. 7-seed Virginia Tech by 20 points 7½ minutes into the second half, their biggest hole since trailing by 21 in the Pittsburgh loss, and couldn’t fight back.
The Hokies took control on a 16–2 run that started with a 3-pointer at the end of the first half and coasted to a 72–59 victory at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center, advancing to Saturday’s 8:30 championship against No. 1-seed Duke.
“I felt like in the first half everything was difficult, everything was hard, and we were all very encouraged about starting the second half and trying to change things around. It just didn’t happen,” UNC coach Hubert Davis said.
“We made some mistakes defensively,” he said. “On the offensive end, we turned the ball over and didn’t get the shots we wanted, and they were able to capitalize.”
UNC (24–9) must now wait for Selection Sunday to see how much the just-snapped six-game win streak boosted its NCAA resume. It’s the fourth consecutive season that UNC has failed to make the championship game, the longest streak since missing it five seasons in a row from 2002 to 2006.
“Yeah, it was disappointing just because we came in with the thought of winning the championship,” said Armando Bacot, who extended his school single-season double-doubles record to 25 with 19 points and 14 rebounds. “We’re all confident in ourselves. We’re just moving on to the next step, and we’re just ready for the tournament. We’ll come prepared.”
It’s the first ACC final in school history for Virginia Tech (22–12), which won in the ACC Tournament against UNC for the first time in five tries and has wins in 12 of it last 14 games.
Carolina was 3 of 26 from 3-point range (11.5%), the worst perimeter game since going 1 of 13 against Kentucky in another game that a big deficit was too much to overcome. The Tar Heels had trouble getting open perimeter shots because the Hokies repeatedly switched effectively on screens.
“Particularly in the first half, I felt like we got good looks from three,” Davis said. “We just missed them. Then, in the second half, I felt a lot of our threes were contested and were forced. They were switching a lot. Their physicality bothered us.”
Bacot missed only one shot, but he didn’t get enough of them. Virginia Tech’s double-teams seemed to vex him most of the night.
“Yeah, it was a little weird,” he said. “It was more of a unique double-team from what I’ve seen, just them coming from the baseline, and then they kind of zoned up on the weak side. Early on, a lot of my reads, it kind of threw off my timing on passes and stuff just because they did a good job on the weak side playing between two men. It’s kind of hard, and I like going baseline a lot, so it definitely affected a lot of things we were trying to get into.”
It looked like Caleb Love might have a big game when he had two first-half 3-pointers, but he finished 3 of 17 from the floor with 10 points. RJ Davis added 10 points.
After Brady Manek made 7 of 11 shots in the first half against Virginia, he was 5 of 14 combined for the rest of the tournament. He scored only 10 points against the Hokies after netting 21 the night before against the Cavaliers.
The strength and resilience that UNC showed during its six-game win streak were absent Friday. Add to the painful losses against Kentucky, Tennessee, Miami and Wake Forest a surprisingly convincing setback against a Hokies team that Carolina swept during the regular season.
“One of the things I said after the game is I don’t want them to be discouraged, I want them to be encouraged,” Hubert Davis said. “I know that we’re disappointed that we did not play better and we did not win tonight, but over the last month and a half, two months, I can’t tell you how proud I am of this group.”
Carolina had its worst shooting game (36.7%) since making only 36.5% of their shots in the Tar Heels’ home 78–68 win over the Hokies on Jan. 24.
Virginia Tech scored the first nine second-half points to go up 41–26 on a Justyn Mutts 3-pointer in the first two minutes of the second half. After the lead ballooned to 20, UNC cut it to 11 with a 9–0 run but never came closer after a Mutts jumper and a Darius Maddox four-point play.
“Yeah, it was tough at the moment because we were trying to make a run,” Bacot said. “But Virginia Tech, I said it at the beginning of the year, I thought they were a top-three team in the conference. I believe they are a tournament team. So, sometimes when you’re playing good teams like that, they just make shots and respond well.”
The Hokies’ four-guard lineup challenged UNC defensively since a big man always had to defend a guard.
“Virginia Tech is a little bit different from the standpoint they were getting the switches, and their guards aren’t necessarily one-on-one and take you out on the perimeter,” Hubert Davis said. “Now Armando, now Brady are having to guard perimeter players coming off of down screens and DHOs [dribble hand-offs]. Those are things they don’t necessarily do very much.”
Maddox came off the bench to lead the Hokies with 20 points and four 3-pointers, with Keve Aluma adding 18.
Virginia Tech led 32–26 after a first half in which both teams had trouble finding their offensive rhythm and getting shots to go down, and UNC never led by more than two. Leaky Black sat for nine minutes of the first half after picking up two fouls. Love, who led UNC with 11 points at halftime, attempted half of the Tar Heels’ final 12 shots of the first half.
UNC will have a few days to regroup before trying to respond to the latest one-sided loss.
Virginia Tech 72, UNC 59
time, day, TV
|5||83–55 exhibition win||Home||Elizabeth City State|
|9||83–67 win, 1–0||Home||Loyola Maryland|
|12||94–87 win, 2–0||Home||Brown|
|16||94–83 win, 3–0||Road||College of Charleston|
|20||93–84 loss, 3–1||Uncasville, Conn.||Y — No. 9 Purdue|
|21||89–72 loss, 3–2||Uncasville, Conn.||Y — No. 9 Tennessee|
|23||72–53 win, 4–2||Home||UNC Asheville|
|December (5–1, 1–0 ACC)|
|1||72–51 win, 5–2||Home||X — Michigan|
|5||79–62 win, 6–2, 1-0 ACC||Road||Georgia Tech|
|11||80–63 win, 7–2 ACC||Home||Elon|
|14||74–61 win, 8–2 ACC||Home||Furman|
|18||98–69 loss, 8–3 ACC||Las Vegas||Z — No. 5 Kentucky|
|21||70–50 win, 9–3 ACC||Home||Appalachian State|
|January (6–3, 6–3 ACC)|
|2||91–65 win, 10–3, 2-0 ACC||Road||Boston College|
|5||78–73 loss, 10–4, 2-1 ACC||Road||Notre Dame|
|8||74–58 win, 11–4, 3–1 ACC||Home||Virginia|
|15||88–65 win, 12–4, 4–1 ACC||Home||Georgia Tech|
|18||85–57 loss, 12–5, 4–2 ACC||Road||Miami|
|22||98–76 loss, 12–6, 4–3 ACC||Road||Wake Forest|
|24||78–68 win, 13–6, 5–3 ACC||Home||Virginia Tech|
|26||58–47 win, 14–6, 6–3 ACC||Home||Boston College|
|29||100–80 win, 15–6, 7–3 ACC||Home||N.C. State|
|February (7–2, 7–2 ACC)|
|1||90–82 OT win, 16–6, 8–3 ACC||Road||Louisville|
|5||87–67 loss, 16–7, 8–4 ACC||Home||No. 7 Duke|
|8||79–77 win, 17–7, 9–4 ACC||Road||Clemson|
|12||94–74 win, 18–7, 10–4 ACC||Home||Florida State|
|16||76–67 loss, 18–8, 10–5 ACC||Home||Pittsburgh|
|19||65–57 win, 19–8, 11–5 ACC||Road||Virginia Tech|
|21||70–63 win, 20–8, 12–5 ACC||Home||Louisville|
|26||84–74 win, 21–8, 13–5 ACC||Road||N.C. State|
|28||88–79 OT win, 22–8, 14–5 ACC||Home||Syracuse|
|5||94–81 win, 23–8, 15–5 ACC||Road||No. 7 Duke|
|— ACC Tournament —|
|10||63–43 win, 24–8||Brooklyn||Virginia|
|11||72–59 loss, 24–9||Brooklyn||Virginia Tech|
Photo courtesy of the ACC