We can officially exhale: the North Carolina Tar Heels recovered from a subpar first half to take down Virginia Tech 81-73 and advance in the ACC Tournament. The result may be shocking to some, which is completely understandable — Carolina prior to the last seven days has had a terrible habit of losing winnable games following big wins. They have now taken down Duke, Notre Dame, and Virginia Tech to go on a three-game win streak, and will have to beat Florida State to move onto the ACC Championship game.
The first half of this game was mind-boggling compared to how the Heels played last night. The bigs were ineffective in the rim-protecting department, letting the Hokies get easy buckets on dribble drives. Virginia Tech also did a good job of sneaking behind the defense for some easy buckets too, which was enough to make Heels fans hear Roy Williams’ non-existent jacket rip in surround sound. Justyn Mutts and Tyrece Radford were simply dominant in the first 20 minutes of this one, combining for 28 of the Hokies’ 35 first half points. How did the Heels answer? By surviving, that’s how. The Heels withstood an 11-1 run by the Hokies and responded with a 7-0 run of their own. From there both teams traded blows until they went into halftime with Virginia Tech leading by three.
In the second half it was clear what the message was that was delivered by Roy Williams in the locker room, which was to make Virginia Tech play their game. After a half of the bigs not doing nearly as much damage as they did last night, the Heels out-rebounded the Hokies 27 to 17. Armando Bacot looked much improved compared to his first half counterpart, as he finished the second half with 13 of his 17 total points and nine rebounds. However, it was RJ Davis who was the most surprising Tar Heel in this game. He went on a huge scoring spree in the second half, which resulted in 14 of his 19 points in this game. He also drained four of his seven three-pointer attempts, and was only one of two Tar Heels to make more than one. His contributions to finish this game out were huge, especially since Kerwin Walton was only able to score eight points due to Virginia Tech double-teaming him all night.
Tonight we also had another block party, though Walker Kessler tagged himself out and sent in Armando Bacot. Bacot and Day’Ron Sharpe finished the game with six of the team’s seven blocks, with Bacot doing most of his damage in the second half. It’s difficult not to see the massive amount of potential in the Bacot/Sharpe combination, and Garrison Brooks’ return to the floor highlighted that in a big way. It was hard to ignore that when Brooks was on the floor things didn’t click as well for the bigs as they did last night, but when Bacot and Sharpe were on the floor together things looked considerably better. A lot of this can be contributed to how much size that combination gives Roy Williams, but Bacot and Sharpe’s motors have been off the charts this week as well. Will we see more of that tomorrow against Florida State? We’ll have to wait and see.
Overall, this was an extremely impressive win from the Tar Heels. Next up is the Seminoles in the semifinal round. The game will start at 9pm/et following the Virginia vs. Georgia Tech game.