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UNC vs. Virginia Tech: Three Things Learned

The Heels found their toughness last night as they downed yet-another ranked opponent.

NCAA Basketball: Virginia Tech at North Carolina Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Last night’s 103-82 win against #10 Virginia Tech was exactly what #11 UNC needed to revive faith in any critics out there that lost faith in them following their loss against Louisville. The truth has always been there: Carolina is one of the better teams in the country, but sometimes, as with a lot of teams, their weaknesses get the best of them. Truth be told, all of these weaknesses showed up for at least a few moments against the Hokies, but it was how the Heels managed to make up for those issues that was impressive.

So what did we learn from such a dominant performance? Let’s take a look at a few takeaways from last night.

Three-pointers are awful until they are amazing

Those of you who were in attendance last night may have paid attention to what was happening during warm-ups. If you were, you noticed a lot of shots not going into the basket. Just warmups, no big deal, right? Well... sometimes those shots you can’t make during warm-ups carries over into games and it becomes a big problem. This night was no exception, at first: UNC only made 7 of their 21 attempts from three in the first half. While that number doesn’t look as bad as it actually was, it’s worth noting that the ones that went in can mostly be accredited to Coby White getting hot in the final 5 minutes of the half. UNC hit just one of their first 12 attempts from deep, meaning they had to make 6 of their next 9 to go into halftime with the numbers they did.

Meanwhile, Virginia Tech just couldn’t miss a shot from deep. They shot 58% from three in the first half, but this was after going 6-7 to open the game. VT’s early 9-point lead was a brutal reminder that when three-pointers aren’t going in for Carolina and yet they go in for the other team, this year’s team has been in a world of hurt.

Thankfully, the hurt didn’t last, and the Heels made 9 out of 13, or 69.2%, of their threes in the second half to finish up with 16/34, or 47%. This total ties the second most in school history and it is the second-most ever made by the Heels in the Dean Dome. It marked the fourth time that the Heels have managed to make 16 threes and is the first time since the Western Carolina game last December.

On the flip side, Virginia Tech cooled off in the second half, only making 6/16 of their three-pointers. The Heels’ defense was able to stop the bleeding in the first half, and this carried over into the second half enough to keep the Hokies from starting a significant run. As Roy Williams loves to say, everything indeed looks better when the ball goes in the basket, as long as it is going into the basket for the boys in Carolina blue.

Coby White has the killer instinct UNC needs in March

Ever since I got a chance to see him play in high school last year, I knew Coby White had something in him that seemed familiar. I knew that he could score, as was evident as I watched him drop a casual 40+ points that night. However, what I saw in him was the same thing I noticed in Joel Berry when he emerged as a big time player for the Heels: he has the kind of killer instinct that makes any team dangerous in March.

Last night was as good of an example as any of us could’ve asked for — UNC hit a 9-point deficit in the first half, and while he had some help from fellow freshman Nassir Little, White took over the game with a level of dominance that we haven’t seen since his 33-point game against Texas. However, this time was different from the game against the Longhorns... very different.

Ever since his first game back in November, Coby White has faced the usual brutal learning curve of a UNC point guard. What he has most had to learn, and finally learned to do really well, is how to make plays on the court that don’t involve barreling towards the basket. White has learned how to kill a primary break if he can’t find what he’s looking for, he’s learned how to look for the easy pass, and as tired as this might sound, he’s learned how to let the game come to him.

What we saw last night was a very cerebral, deadly Coby White. He finished the game with 27 points, 7 rebounds, 6 assists, and 4 steals. He is the first Tar Heel, as our earlier article stated, to lead the team in all four categories since Joe Forte did it against Duke in 2001. This arguably was the best game that White has had yet in a UNC uniform, and it was a performance needed against a Virginia Tech team that was ready to put away the Heels as quickly as possible.

There was a good amount of eyebrow raising that came with Roy Williams naming Coby White the starting point guard at the beginning of the season. It’s understandable why, as UNC point guards traditionally struggle in their first year. What we’re starting to see that Roy may have seen at the time is that White is exactly what he needed after Joel Berry II graduated: a stone-cold killer that can help lead his team back to the Final Four. Roy Williams did point out during his post-game conference that White still needs to get the turnovers worked out, as he had three turnovers for the night. However, if he can keep even 3/4 of what he did against the Hokies going, the rest of the ACC is going to have a big problem on their hands.

Toughness does exist in Chapel Hill

There’s no nice way to put it: the Tar Heels got punched in the mouth hard to open the game. Virginia Tech did a great job of finding good shots, forcing the Heels to bite on dribble penetration, and really just being extremely frustrating for Roy Williams. Given how they responded in their losses this year, it was easy to expect the Heels to lay on the mat until the 10-count was up, right?

Amazingly, the Heels got back up, and not only did they get back up, but they went on a 20-2 run to close the half. It was something they hadn’t done in that type of situation all year, and it was something a lot of people thought they weren’t capable of doing. They continued to throw punches at Virginia Tech in the second half, taking a 27-point lead with 8 minutes left in the game before the Hokies began to show essence of life again.

So, how did they do it? The quick answer is Coby White and Nassir Little, who joined White in having a really good night. Little finished the game with 23 points, which means he and Coby combined for nearly half of the Heels’ final score.

Perhaps the biggest factor that won’t be talked about as much as it should, however, is points off of turnovers: the Heels forced 12 turnovers in the first half, and forced 4 more in the second. In total, the Heels scored 22 points off of turnovers, with a majority of those points playing a huge role in the comeback made in the first half.

We can continue going through the list of things that improved throughout the game, but to sum it all up, the Heels just looked better overall and like a team that is done getting knocked out. They will still take some rough losses, there’s no doubt about that, but hopefully we are seeing this team turn a corner and they now know exactly what they need to do to punch back as hard as their opponent. Or in this case, punch back even harder.