After handing Virginia a convincing L in the quarterfinals of the ACC Tournament, the Tar Heels got stomped out by the Hokies to end their trip to Brooklyn. If you want me to save you some reading, the game can be summed up in once sentence: Virginia Tech was simply the better team. I hate making things so simple, but we have to remember that UNC beat the Hokies twice in the regular season. It’s really hard to beat a team three times, but also Virginia Tech is playing really, really hard in this tournament. However, UNC weren’t without their fair share of mistakes, which we will get into now.
Here are three things we learned from UNC’s final game of the ACC Tournament.
Shutting down Bacot
Let’s state the obvious: UNC had a very bad shooting night against Virginia Tech. They missed contested shots, open shots, close shots, shots from deep, the whole nine yards. We’ve seen a lot of shots that Manek, Davis, and Love take go in so many times this season, and last night they just weren’t falling. It is what it is, but the Hokies deserve credit for their defensive performance, because they absolutely played a part in how things transpired.
One thing that the Hokies did was shut down the paint: whenever Armando Bacot was able to touch the ball, he almost immediately found himself being double-teamed, with a third guy not far behind him. On top of that, VT’s guards were pressuring the ball and switching on ball screens, making it really hard on Davis and Love. That led to a good amount of ill-advised shots, and also contributed to the 11 turnovers — though Love deserves credit for having zero turnovers for the game. The Heels did a great job of making this game ugly for themselves, but Virginia Tech made it even uglier.
A Tale of Two Benches
Hubert Davis dug into the bench quite a bit in this game thanks to Leaky Black and RJ Davis getting into foul trouble in the first half. Kerwin Walton, Justin McKoy, and Puff Johnson saw action for significant amounts of time, but they were only able to provide six points of offense. It stung quite a bit, especially since Brady Manek was on the bench for an unusual amount of time in both halves. The other reason it stung? Darius Maddox.
A virtual no-show in the first two games, Maddox was the x-factor in the game, and really has been excellent throughout the tournament. Maddox finished the game with 20 of Virginia Tech’s 30 points off of the bench after only scoring seven points in the previous two games against UNC combined. He was ridiculous from deep, making four of his five three-point attempts. Needless to say, the best way to neutralize a performance like the one Maddox had is to get some production out of your own bench, but the Heels just don’t have it. It’s unreasonable to expect four of five starters to score 20 points a game, especially a team that is as perimeter-oriented as UNC.
The Road Ahead
Now that the ACC Tournament is over for the Heels, they will go home and patiently wait to see where they end up in the NCAA Tournament. The team has been on quite the roller coaster over the last seven days, and if they feel anything like I’ve felt watching it, I’m sure they are physically and emotionally exhausted. Beating Duke in Cameron Indoor was a tremendous accomplishment, but it was hard to imagine that they wouldn’t come back down to Earth a bit going into the ACC Tournament. My personal take? The Virginia game was a blessing, but the game against Virginia Tech was a reality check.
One thing that UNC had to learn the hard way is that this is exactly what the NCAA Tournament is going to be like. There’s no more bad days allowed, no more poor shot selection, and no more head-scratching turnovers. These things can’t exist anymore. Every single team in the field will give their absolute best shot with hopes of making it to the Final Four, and the Heels need to be ready to match that energy. They have absolutely come a long way from where they were in November, and had a helluva run in February and March, despite a few disappointing losses. However, they have to be ready to be punched in the mouth like they got punched last night, and more importantly, they have to be ready to punch back. Hopefully they realize that now, and can make an exciting run that we can all be proud of.