By R.L. Bynum
Coach Hubert Davis has been hesitant to go very deep into his bench this season. Injuries forced him to do that in Carolina’s ACC opener, and it didn’t go well until the last 10 minutes.
Without Armando Bacot and reserve D’Marco Dunn, Davis substituted more in the first half than he has done in most games, trying to find the right lineup combinations. By the time a combination started to click, it was too late as Virginia Tech held on for an 80–72 victory Sunday at Cassell Coliseum in Blacksburg, Va.
Bacot sat out the game with a right shoulder contusion suffered in the first half against Indiana and Dunn will miss several weeks after breaking a bone in his left hand in Saturday’s practice.
The Tar Heels (5–4, 0–1 ACC) have gone from the preseason No. 1 team to No. 18 to falling further in (and possibly out of) Monday’s poll after their fourth consecutive loss, the longest skid since UNC lost seven in a row in February 2020.
“It’s been a lot of games and states and across the country and exams and time zones, but that’s OK,” Coach Davis said. “We’re going to learn from it and grow from it and get better as a team. Myself and this team, we don’t know anything else but to fight, and that’s what we’re going to do.”
With freshman reserves Seth Trimble and Tyler Nickel on the floor along with starters RJ Davis, Caleb Love and Pete Nance, UNC outscored the Hokies 25–17 over a nearly 10-minute stretch late in the second half.
“I’m proud of the guys who were in there,” said Coach Davis, who got his team’s attention during timeouts.
“Coach had some pointed words to say in one of the huddles in the timeouts, and I think that really got to us, and we turned it around from there,” said Trimble, who added that the Tar Heels started to play better on defense by speeding up the Hokies and double-teaming more.
Leaky Black went in on defense for Nickel and the two subbed for each other a few times in the last minute. Black had three fouls and played a season-low 25 minutes (his previous low was 27 against Gardner-Webb), contributing two points and two blocks.
That sequence in the last minute may indicate that one reason Nickel has not been getting more minutes is because of his play on defense.
“The way we played those last five minutes, we can really tell ourselves this is what we do, this is the team we are,” Trimble said. “When we get the full effort, that’s how good we can be. So, if we just sit and look at those last 10 minutes? If we can play like that from here on, we’ll be good.”
Virginia Tech (8–2, 1–0) took an 18-point lead on Justyn Mutts’ fast-break layup with 13:19 left. But Nance’s 3-pointer and Love’s drive capped a 19–6 run to cut the deficit to five with 2:49 left. The lead never got under five, though, as Sean Pedulla hit a huge 3-pointer for Tech with 1:02 left.
Love, RJ Davis and Nance each scored 18 points, and Nance added 10 rebounds.
After playing only 26½ minutes total before Sunday, Nickel had eight points, two rebounds and an assist in 25 minutes. He was UNC’s only positive plus/minutes player at +1. Trimble, who had never previously played more than 15 minutes, collected six points, three rebounds and an assist in 23 minutes.
Puff Johnson got his first career start but only played one second-half minute and finished with 12 scoreless minutes, missing both of his shots.
Carolina’s perimeter shooting struggles continued as the Heels were 3 of 17 from 3-point range. The 17.6% shooting from outside the arc was the second-worst this season behind the 16.6% in the loss to Iowa State.
Love was 2 of 5 from 3-point range, and the rest of the team was 1 of 12.
For the sixth time in nine games, UNC had more turnovers (10) than assists (6). It was Carolina’s fourth single-digit assist game this season (also eight vs. Gardner-Webb, five vs. Indiana and four vs. UNCW.)
Without Bacot in the middle defensively, Mutts got whatever he wanted until UNC started double-teaming him in the last seven minutes. Mutts, who scored 24 in the Hokies’ ACC tournament semifinals win last season, finished with a team-high 27 points. Hunter Cattoor, who scored 14 in that semifinal game, had 13 points and three 3-pointers and Pedulla added 14.
It took nearly 25 minutes before Dontrez Styles pulled down Carolina’s first offensive rebound as the Hokies outrebounded the Heels 39–25 and outscored them inside 42–32.
Styles had played only 14 minutes, 43 seconds this season before Sunday but played eight scoreless minutes with a rebound against the Hokies.
UNC took a 5–2 lead on a Nance jumper, but the Hokies went on a 14–2 run to go up 16–7 with 11:06 left in the first half.
Love got beat on defense on three consecutive first-half possessions, on layups by Mutts, Grant Basile and Cattoor. Those buckets capped a 10–2 Tech run to push its lead to 11.
The lead expanded to 12 twice in the last two minutes of the first half before a Nance jumper with 26 seconds left cut Carolina’s halftime deficit to 37–27.
NOTES — After a five-game road trip, UNC finally returns home Saturday to face Georgia Tech at 3:15 p.m. (ESPN) in the Yellow Jackets’ ACC opener. Georgia Tech (5–3), which faces Georgia at home Tuesday night, has lost to Utah (68–64) and Marquette (84–60) in Fort Myers, Fla., and 81–65 at Iowa on Tuesday. … It was Carolina’s third consecutive ACC opener on the road. … Carolina is 56–14 in ACC openers and 1–1 under Davis. … UNC is 72–17 against Virginia Tech, 19–7 since the Hokies joined the ACC, 22–7 in Blacksburg and 9–5 in Cassell Coliseum.
Va. Tech 80, No. 18 UNC 72
UNC lineup combinations
|28||Friday||W, 101–40||Johnson C. Smith||Home||Exhibition|
|11||Friday||W, 102–86||College of Charleston||Home||2–0|
|20||Sunday||W, 80–64||James Madison||Home||4–0|
|Phil Knight Invitational|
|24||Thursday||W, 89–81||First round: Portland||Portland||5–0|
|27||Sunday||L, 103–101, |
No. 3 Alabama
|ACC/Big Ten Challenge|
|30||Wednesday||L, 77–65||No. 18 Indiana||Bloomington, Ind.||5–3|
|4||Sunday||L, 80–72||Virginia Tech||Blacksburg, Va.||5–4, |
|10||Saturday||W, 75–59||Georgia Tech||Home||6–4, |
|13||Tuesday||W, 100–67||The Citadel||Home||7–4|
|CBS Sports Classic|
|17||Saturday||W, 89–84, OT||Ohio State||New York||8–4|
|30||Friday||L, 76–74||Pittsburgh||Pittsburgh||9–5, |
|4||Wednesday||W, 88–79||Wake Forest||Home||10–5, |
|7||Saturday||W, 81–64||Notre Dame||Home||11–5, |
|10||Tuesday||L, 65–58||No. 8 Virginia||Charlottesville||11–6, |
|14||Saturday||W, 80–59||Louisville||Louisville, Ky.||12–6, |
|17||Tuesday||W, 72–64||Boston College||Home||13–6, |
|21||Saturday||W, 80–69||No. 22 N.C. State||Home||14–6, |
|24||Tuesday||W, 72–68||Syracuse||Syracuse, N.Y.||15–6, |
|1||Wednesday||L, 65–64||Pittsburgh||Home||15–7, |
|4||Saturday||L, 63–57||Duke||Durham||15–8, |
|7||Tuesday||7 p.m.||Wake Forest||Winston-Salem||ESPN|
|13||Monday||7 p.m.||No. 19 Miami||Home||ESPN|
|19||Sunday||1 p.m.||No. 22 N.C. State||Raleigh||ESPN|
|22||Wednesday||9 p.m.||Notre Dame||South Bend, Ind.||ESPN or ESPN2|
|25||Saturday||6 or 8||No. 8 Virginia||Home||ESPN|
|27||Monday||7 p.m.||Florida State||Tallahassee, Fla.||ESPN|
ACCN means the game airs on ACC Network.
Photo via @UNC_Basketball