Last night the North Carolina Tar Heels suffered a double-overtime loss to Virginia Tech 77-79. This loss marks the first time the Hokies have beaten the Heels at home twice in a row since the 1910s, and it also marks the first time ever that the Heels have lost six consecutive ACC games.
The terrifying thing about this season is that the ACC teams that Carolina has played so far are serving as barometers to measure just how deep of a hole this team is in. Virginia Tech didn’t play their best and yet the Heels were unable to capitalize down the stretch. With that said, here are a few takeaways from yet another disappointing loss.
Virginia Tech didn’t want to win this game
This is perhaps a hot take, but the Hokies did everything they could on their own home court to give Roy Williams’ team a much-needed victory. One source of blame is their style of play that they have adopted since Mike Young became their head coach. His scheme is heavily perimeter-focused, as was evident by Virginia Tech’s 37 three-point attempts out of their 65 total field goals. This style of play can work if you have consistent, deadly shooters, but it’s just really hard to have sustainable success with if you don’t have someone like Fletcher McGee on your team. Landers Nolley II struggled from deep this game, as he made just 2 of his 8 attempts from behind the arc. The counterpoint, of course, is that Jalen Cone was lights out, as he went 6-11 and finished with 18 points. The team as a whole finished the game shooting just 36% from the field and 37% from deep, which feels like a big missed opportunity for UNC.
If that wasn’t enough, Virginia Tech was undersized and at times just not very good, giving a couple of Tar Heels the opportunity to capitalize. Garrison Brooks finished with an impressive 28 points, 13 rebounds, and 6 assists, and Justin Pierce even got in on some of the action as he finished the game with 15 points, which is a career high against an ACC opponent. The biggest mistake that the Hokies made defensively, however, is failing to take a page from Clemson and implement the full-court trap near the end of the second half. Their willingness to let things play out ended well, but things could’ve been over much sooner if they attacked UNC’s Achilles' Heel in regulation. Credit them for the win, but I can’t help but feel like this was an enormous missed opportunity for Carolina.
Execution down the stretch is still an issue
Stop me when you’ve heard this before: in the final six minutes of regulation, UNC only scored three points after being up 57-51. The massive drought was enough for Virginia Tech to slowly but surely catch up, and two clutch free-throws by P.J. Horne sent things into overtime. These droughts are becoming all too normal for this year’s team, and Roy Williams was visibly upset at the end of regulation about how his team executed in the final minutes.
This may sound like a broken record, but these types of issues down the stretch can easily be attributed to not having a point guard like Cole Anthony on the floor. For essentially Roy Williams’ entire UNC career, there has always been someone on the floor that knew how to get everyone in the right spots or else take over the game themselves in order to put the game away. With Jeremiah Francis having been so far removed from basketball and Leaky Black battling through injury woes while being moved back and forth between the small forward and the point, it’s hard to see this issue being resolved until Anthony comes back. Nothing is a guarantee, of course, but it’s the team’s only hope at this point or we will just see more and more of this for the rest of the season.
There’s no bottom to this injury pit
Brandon Robinson played against Pitt over the weekend after being involved in a car accident just days beforehand. As many people may know, ailments from accidents will sneak up on you days after the accidents take place, and thus led to B-Rob having to sit out last night due to neck issues. This, combined with Cole Anthony’s continued absence, Leaky’s injured hand, and Garrison Brooks coming very close to injuring his hand right before halftime has proven that the level of injuries that this team can suffer truly has no limits. The only time we’ve seen anything even close to this bad? The 2017 football team. At the time it seemed about as surreal as it could possibly get, and now it is Roy Williams’ issue to navigate.
One day Cole Anthony will return, and all of this could at least get to where the Heels will manage to get a win. My fear, however, is that there’s no end to the injuries in sight. Even the players that are healthy enough to play right now are hurt in some way shape or form, and the only way to prevent players from becoming inactive may be to cover them in bubble wrap. All we can do is hope that things at least stabilize once Anthony comes back, but it’s harder and harder to see that happening right now.
In short, UNC is still showing a lot of fight, but the combination of injuries and issues executing near the end of the second half are a lot to overcome. It’s hard to see them being able to completely recharge before taking on Miami (at NOON) Saturday, but maybe by then they’ll have a couple of fresh legs that will be able to re-join them. All we can do is hope, because at this stage of the season, it’s hard to tell how much more fans, coaches, and players are able to handle.