Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports
Editor's Note: Much like UNC's defense at times, I do poor job at communicating and since I was late returning from the game T.H. went ahead wrote a recap which I published over without realizing it was there. Mea culpa on my part. Since T.H. wrote an excellent recap, it will remain posted -Brian
The storyline coming into this game was pretty simple. Virginia Tech has a decent offense and an absolutely atrocious defense; even without P.J. Hairston, the big concern would be whether North Carolina could keep Erick Green from torching the Heels, not whether UNC could get the ball in the hoop.
The conventional wisdom was wrong.
North Carolina put forth one of their worst shooting performances this year — only against Texas, Virginia and Maryland were the worse — with Reggie Bullock leading the futility with a 3-13 performance. James Michael McAdoo had more success, though his 22 points and 10 rebounds were tempered by five turnovers, while Dexter Strickland and Lesie McDonald in his first game back were never serious scoring threats. Instead it was Marcus Paige, scoring a career-high 19 points, including 8 in overtime who picked up Hairston's slack as UNC struggled to put away the Hokies.
Carolina was in a hole from the start, with McAdoo missing a game-opening dunk and VT reeling off twelve straight points. That would be an insurmountable deficit for this team earlier in the year — UNC hasn't won a game where they've trailed by more than six — but the team settled down after Roy uncharacteristically called an early timeout and slowly battled their way back. The Heels were down by six at the half, and although the offense continued to flail, the defense really stepped up.
Dexter Strickland gets a lot of grief for his troubles on the offensive side of the ball, but it was easy to see why he's third in the team in minutes. He corralled the conference's leading scorer, Erick Green, and along with Reggie Bullock, confined him to 16 points, his second-worst performance of the season. With Green limited, the Hokies were forced to turn to players not used to bearing the load, like Cadarian Raines, who I'm pretty sure no one expected to take eleven shots. Tech has never been a deep team, and faded down the stretch, making only two shots after UNC finally took the lead at 46-45 with 9:29 remaining.
Still, there was always UNC's offensive futility to keep the Hokies in the game. Against a subpar defense the Tar Heels turned the ball over twelve times, most critically in the last two possessions of regulation. With a slim two-point lead and plenty of clock to burn, McAdoo coughed the ball up and as a result VT was able to send the game to overtime with a pair of free throws. McAdoo is still the most frustrating player on this team, capable of scoring rampages, and rebounding domination, but also an expert in the art of poor decision making. Williams sat him early after some particularly bad choices, and he was quite solid for most of the game after that, but there are few players who have risked more damage to my TV from flying implements than that guy.
Paige, however, did little wrong and I hope this serves as the beginning of a new level of play from him. He was thrust into a tenuous situation as a freshman point guard having to learn on the job, but this was a solid performance on both ends of the ball. Virginia Tech's defense can make a lot of players look good, but if he continues like this through at least the Duke game, I'd feel a lot better about this team.
Also worth noting: Jackson Simmons had his third straight game with double-digit minutes, much of it coming late with the game on the line. For someone few expected to see on the court at this point in the season, he's doing a terrific job at getting to rebounds seemingly beyond his reach and selecting his shots (He's 14-16 in ACC play).
I think at this point we have to accept that this is going to be a particularly frustrating team, and that the season will include games like this one, where a team near the bottom of the conference can take UNC to overtime in Chapel Hill. But they're beginning to develop some poise, and the win here is Carolina's fifth in their last six games. They've reached the conference halfway point tied for fourth in the ACC with about the record we all expected. If they can finish the season out at this level we'll be able to look back and if not