After losing to Florida State Saturday, Virginia Tech entered tonight’s Big Monday showdown needing a win to help their rapidly shrinking NCAA Tournament hopes. The Hokies had a huge challenge for this must-win game against the tenth-ranked defending national champion North Carolina Tar Heels.
Despite the odds being against them, the Hokies rose to the occasion and made a statement in this must win game.
Virginia Tech upset #10 North Carolina 80-69 to end their two-game losing streak and improve 14-6 overall and 3-4 in conference. The win over the Tar Heels is VT’s second top 50 RPI win according to ESPN’s RPI. However, this win is significantly better than their previous best win over Washington as the Tar Heels are ranked third in the RPI while Washington is currently ranked 50th.
The 11-point victory was not only the Hokies’ first win over the Tar Heels since 2010, but the largest since 1949 (thanks to David Teel for this great stat).
— David Teel (@DavidTeelatDP) January 23, 2018
The Hokies’ rebounding wasn’t great in the first half, but VT had their best rebounding half of the Buzz Williams era in the second half with 9 second half offensive rebounds on their way to outrebounding UNC 36-35 while keeping it even at 10 on the offensive glass. The Hokies also had great ball movement with 17 assists and only 9 turnovers while UNC had 17 turnovers and 13 rebounds.
Defensively, the Hokies were excellent holding the Tar Heels to 42.9% shooting from the field and 32.3% (10-31) from beyond the arc. The Hokies didn’t have a great shooting night only shooting 47.6% from the field, but their three-point shooting was much better shooting 40% (12-30) from the field.
The Hokies’ improved defense and three-point shooting along with their best rebounding performance of the Buzz Williams’s era made a big difference in this game.
Justin Robinson shined in this game as the Hokies led Virginia Tech with 19 points while also having 5 rebounds, 4 assists, and only 1 turnover. Down the stretch, Robinson made some big shots and was great throughout shooting 7-13 from the field and 3-5 from beyond the arc. As the Hokies have progressed through ACC play, Robinson’s play has steadily improved as he’s turned into the lead star of a Virginia Tech team that saw it’s NCAA Tournament receive a much-needed boost.
After a disappointing game against Florida State, Ahmed Hill stepped up with 18 points, 3 rebounds, and 0 turnovers on 8-12 shooting including 2-5 from beyond the arc. Hill was aggressive and will to attack when defenders tried to rush over to cover a possible open three from him. Hill also made some plays in transition including a great put-back dunk that will be all over the highlights from this game.
Kerry Blackshear stayed out of foul trouble and had another quality performance with 16 points and 5 rebounds on 6-10 shooting including 2-5 from beyond the arc. Blackshear has been one of the ACC’s most improved players this year which showed tonight as he stayed out of foul trouble and gave the Hokies the 33 minutes that VT needs from their only regular player that’s taller than 6’6”.
Justin Bibbs and Nickeil Alexander-Walker both didn’t have great shooting nights, but both still found ways to make a difference as each had 8 points and 5 rebounds. NAW and Bibbs were two of five Hokies to have at least 5 rebounds tonight, a big reason why VT was able to surprisingly win the rebounding battle against one of the best rebounding teams in the country. Bibbs also had 2 steals in what was an all-around solid game for Bibbs even if his shooting wasn’t great.
Chris Clarke led the Hokies with 8 rebounds while also being tied for the team high in assists (4) and steals (2). Clarke finished the night with 8 points, but was quite valuable in a multitude of ways especially on the defensive glass.
Devin Wilson didn’t score any points but he had 3 assists while also having one of his better defensive performances. Wabissa Bede played only four minutes, but had a big three in his short stint while Tyrie Jackson had no stats in 3 minutes of play. PJ Horne only played 4 minutes, but he had 3 rebounds and one mid-court high-five from Buzz Williams after a stoppage that excited the crowd but drew the ire of refs and Roy Williams whom Buzz appeared to apologize to almost immediately after.
This was a huge win for a Hokie team that had a rough start to ACC play, pushing them to the brink of falling off the bubble. The Hokies now have that elite RPI win that they’ve been looking for and should push them right back into the middle of the bubble conversation even with their weak non-conference schedule.
However, the Hokies have to keep the momentum going as they face an important road game Saturday at a Notre Dame without star Bonzie Colson and contributor DJ Harvey. The Fighting Irish will be a test even without those guys, but the Hokies have to see this as a opportunity as a win would set them up well to get to 10 wins in conference, a number that should put VT in the NCAA Tournament.