ON THEIR HEELS
After exhilarating rivalry wins against Duke and N.C. State sandwiched around a 105-point outburst against Wake Forest, No. 19 North Carolina may have been due for an ugly performance.
The Tar Heels had one on Saturday against Virginia Tech (9-19, 2-14 ACC) but in a sign of how far this team has come, it didn’t stop UNC from extending its winning streak to 11 games.
The Tar Heels (22-7, 12-4 ACC) struggled against the Hokies’ slow-down pace and 2-3 zone but still came away with a 60-56 win at Cassell Coliseum.
“Obviously we’re not super pleased with the way we played,” sophomore point guard Marcus Paige said. “But at this stage of the season, when you’re on the road, you’ll take whatever you can get.”
The win ensures that after a 1-4 start in the league, UNC will be a top-four seed in the ACC Tournament at the Greensboro Coliseum and will get a bye into Friday’s quarterfinals.
Coming off a 35-point night against N.C. State, Paige was held to nine points and one assist against the Hokies. But the Tar Heels got just enough scoring from James Michael McAdoo (15 points), Leslie McDonald (14 points) and J.P. Tokoto (14 points, seven rebounds) to avoid a stunning upset against a team that had won just twice since Dec. 8 and was missing two of its top three scorers due to injuries.
“I think it’s good,” UNC coach Roy Williams said. “Marcus Paige scores nine points and we still win. He has one assist and we still win.”
Down 28-21 at the half, the Hokies scored eight straight points and tied the game at 36 on a 3-pointer by Devin Wilson with 12:16 remaining. But Tokoto answered with a long-range shot on the other end – his first made 3 since Feb. 1 – to put the Tar Heels ahead to stay.
McAdoo’s energy and activity on both ends made sure the lead would stick. He took a charge, had a steal and made a one-handed slam during UNC’s 7-0 run that made it 49-40 with 6:56 to play.
The dunk started a stretch when McAdoo scored all eight Tar Heel points during a six-minute span. His effort was exemplified by a play when he knocked a pass away at the 3-point line and chased the ball down the court, diving at the end line to try and save the ball from going out.
“He really brought it,” Paige said of McAdoo. “This was a day when not all of our guys were full into the game, 100 percent effort, attention to detail. But Mac brought the intensity. You saw him chase down 90 feet to get that loose ball just to get an extra possession.”
Still, the energy didn’t help McAdoo at the free throw line down the stretch. Though Paige — the ACC’s best free-throw shooter — made both of his attempts, McDonald and McAdoo combined to go 3 for 8 from the line in the final 90 seconds.
Still, McDonald made the free throw that sealed the win. Up 59-56 with 4.8 seconds left, the senior’s first attempt rattled out, which McDonald said made him realize that the rims were “a little bit tight.” So he put more arc on the second one, and the free throw ensured UNC would win 11 straight conference games for the first time in 13 years.
It also clinched UNC’s fourth straight season with a winning conference road record. Though the atmosphere was nowhere near some of the more hostile arenas UNC has played in this season, Williams said that he didn’t expect his team to have an emotional letdown on Saturday.
“We’ve had 85 practices, 29 games,” Williams said. “My god, if you can’t get fired up 29 times there’s something wrong with you, because I don’t buy all that junk. … If I get 29 games I’m going to play my blankety-blank off 29 times.”
Williams said that the “workmanlike” game showed UNC could win without its best effort for the second straight time, including Wednesday’s 85-84 overtime win over the Wolfpack.
“We made a bunch of defensive errors against North Carolina State, and weren’t as aggressive and got in the right spots and finished plays today against Virginia Tech,” Williams said. “But as I said earlier you have to win some games ugly.”
|No. 19 NORTH CAROLINA 60, VIRGINIA TECH 56|
Percentages: FG .418, FT .500.
3-Point Goals: 5-17, .294 (McDonald 3-9, Tokoto 1-4, Paige 1-4).
Team Rebounds: 4.
Blocked Shots: 3 (Meeks 2, Hubert).
Turnovers: 7 (Britt 2, McDonald 2, Meeks, James, Tokoto).
Steals: 7 (McAdoo 3, Tokoto 2, Paige, McDonald).
Technical Fouls: None.
Percentages: FG .356, FT .810.
3-Point Goals: 7-24, .292 (Eddie 3-9, Johnston 2-6, Wood 1-1, Wilson 1-6, Barksdale 0-2).
Team Rebounds: 3.
Blocked Shots: 3 (Eddie, Wilson, Johnston).
Turnovers: 12 (Thompson 3, Wilson 2, Van Zegeren 2, Eddie 2, Wood, Beyer).
Steals: 4 (Johnston 2, Thompson, Barksdale).
Technical Fouls: None.
Officials_Jamie Luckie, Tim Nestor, Lamar Simpson.