Virginia Tech’s impressive start to the basketball season has stalled a bit recently as the Hokies have struggled with high-quality road opposition. After a blowout loss at Virginia last week, the team rebounded with a dominant win against Wake Forest over the weekend in Cassell Coliseum.
That victory didn’t give them enough momentum, though, as they lost to North Carolina 103-83 on Monday night. With the loss, the Hokies fell to 15-3 on the season including 4-2 in ACC play while UNC improved to 15-4 including 5-1 in ACC play.
The Hokies have seen some great success during the first half of the season, picking up a top 25 win against Purdue and blowing out the majority of their non-conference competition. ACC play has been a different story, however. Tech has not shot as well and has not played as well on the defensive side of the ball in its five conference games, leaving the Hokies with a 3-2 ACC record after tonight’s loss.
The outlook wasn’t always grim during the trip to Chapel Hill. Tech came out of the gate firing, taking a 22-13 lead just eight minutes into the first half. That nine-point lead was fueled by two three-pointers from Justin Robinson and three from Nickeil Alexander-Walker. The Hokies had a sizable lead on the road against the No. 11 team in the country, and had a shot to leave the Dean Smith Center with a marquee win.
Then the tide started to turn.
Robinson and Alexander-Walker each left the floor after getting into foul trouble and the team’s performance began to dwindle. UNC began to close in on the Hokies’ lead when Nassir Little had a bucket with 10:48 left in the half. Not long after, the Tar Heels went on a 20-0 run and went into the break with a 45-31 lead. Tech was able to score just nine points in the last 12:27 of the half as the Hokies were painfully bad on the offensive end without their two star guards.
The second half saw more of the same as UNC came out hot and continued to pile on the points. The Tar Heels led by as much as 27 at one point, eventually winning the game by 21 points and scoring in triple digits. They shot 54 percent from three-point range and made 15 of their last 22 three-point shots.
Turnovers proved to be a key factor as the Hokies gave up the ball 16 times in the game. UNC managed to score 25 points off of those turnovers with an 18-5 first half advantage that made a difference.
The Hokies’ depth is a point of emphasis as well as the team is now without forward P.J. Horne, who is out indefinitely with an undisclosed injury. Tech scored just five points off the bench compared to UNC’s 32.
Four players scored in double digits for Tech with Ahmed Hill leading the way with 20. Kerry Blackshear, Alexander-Walker and Robinson all scored more than 10 points as well. As a team, Tech shot 44.3 percent from the field, six percentage points below its season average of 50 percent.
Blackshear was the Hokies' star player on this night as the redshirt junior had a career-high 17 rebounds, 10 of which came on the offensive glass, in addition to his 19 points and 5 assists. The Hokies' big man also played with 4 fouls for almost the full final 10 minutes and avoided fouling out, something that has to be encouraging going forward.
Coby White led North Carolina in this game with 27 points, 7 rebounds, 6 assists, and 4 steals while fellow freshman Nassir Little had 23 points off the bench.
The loss is the third of the season for the Hokies, who have worked their way to a top-10 ranking by dominating non-conference opponents. ACC play has proved more challenging so far with the team shooting worse than usual while also having some foul issues in recent games.
Tech should have a good opportunity to bounce back this Saturday against Syracuse. The Hokies will host the Orange at home on Saturday night, looking to regain some momentum after losing two of their last three. While Tech is undefeated at home including 3 ACC wins, Syracuse should give VT their toughest home test of the season to date.
Photo Credit: Dave Knachel/Virginia Tech Athletics
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