Well that wasn't pretty.
The Heels played well enough on defense save for giving up some open threes but put in one of their worse offensive performances of the season on the way to a 68-53 win over Virginia Tech.
Roy Williams called it a weird game thanks in part to multiple stoppages due to blood on the court from Virginia Tech's Will Johnston who had to be treated for cuts on three separate occasions. Johnston also lost a shoe, had his headband knocked off and for good measure there were two "referee corrections." One of those actually resulted in a made Hoke FT being taken off the scoreboard because the officials had allowed the wrong player to take it. Within this context, the Tar Heels struggled through a 17 turnover game with less than stellar shooting and overall poor offensive execution.
The game started out well enough for the Heels with Marcus Paige drilling a three on a tap out from Brice Johnson and UNC taking a 9-2 lead. Virginia Tech answered back with a pair of threes. The Hokies employed a smaller lineup which forced Johnson and Isaiah Hicks to guard on the perimeter more often. Johnson was slow to close out on a pair of three point attempts and the Hokies made UNC pay. Despite Virginia Tech cashing in on some open threes, UNC forced turnovers and kept the Hokies in check to the tune of 21 points in the first half.
The problem for the Tar Heels was on the offensive end where a poor first half kept the Heels from asserting even more control than the 13 point halftime advantage. The Tar Heels fell into the trap of taking too many outside shots and did not attempt a single free throw in the first half. UNC were not aggressive against the Hokie zone and failed to get the ball to the interior enough. On the season only 23% of UNC's overall FG attempts come from three. In the first half UNC attempted 37% of its shots from three. In short, UNC was out of sync and character offensively with predictable, less than optimal results.
Amid UNC's first half struggles, Justin Jackson put together one of his better stat lines of the season and certainly ACC play. The freshman forward led the Heels with 16 points to go along with seven rebounds and four assists. Ten of those points came in the first half and buoyed what was an otherwise sloppy performance from the Tar Heels.
The second half continued to be ugly though the Heels did manage a tad more offensive production to eventually push the lead as high as 18 6:41 left. UNC settled for fewer outside shots attempting just three from beyond the arc after halftime. A concerted effort was made to get the ball into the post and overall UNC shot better in the second half(45% vs 42%) to go along with 17 free throw attempts.
While UNC was in control of the game with no real sense Virginia Tech had a legitimate chance to climb back in it, the Tar Heel turnovers did leave the door slightly ajar. The Hokies managed to whittle an 18 point deficit down to just eight with 2:08 remaining. The Tar Heels badly mishandled Virginia Tech's full court pressure and a couple of made threes gave the Hokies a glimmer of hope before 5-6 shooting at the FT line by the Tar Heels essentially shut the door.
In addition's to Jackson 16 points, Johnson had 12 points and 11 rebounds. J.P. Tokoto scored ten points and dished out four assists. Paige followed up his performance against NC State with a 3-10 shooting night for eight points and seven rebounds.
As Williams noted, this was a weird game. It is likely more a byproduct of coming off three straight tough games and playing down to an opponent than it is a deeper flaw. The offensive execution with this team can be a little suspect at times and it certainly was versus Virginia Tech. Looking at the whole history of college basketball teams, games of this nature are by no means unusual, even for good teams. It is certainly better UNC played poorly in a game they could simply sleep walk through and still win by 15 than on the road at Wake Forest which has already given Louisville and Duke trouble.
That is assuming this performance doesn't carry over but that's what surprise 9 PM practices on Monday are supposed to cure right?