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Virginia Tech Comes Up Short at No. 7 North Carolina 96-81

MJ Collins 1 VT UNC 2024 From VT
Photo Credit: Virginia Tech Athletics

Neither team had an issue scoring the basketball or drawing fouls between Virginia Tech and No. 7 North Carolina this afternoon in Chapel Hill. However, on a day where the Hokies had to be sharp with their shooting, Tech was unfortunately lacking from three-point range when it mattered most while struggling on the glass and in the paint against one of the best players in America in Armando Bacot.

Virginia Tech lost to No. 7 North Carolina 96-81 to fall to 14-11 overall including 6-8 in ACC play while the Tar Heels improved to 20-6 overall including 12-3 in ACC play.

Tech was able to linger in this game for most of it, even as North Carolina got their lead up the mid-teens at times. However, there were two areas where the Hokies weren't up to par that cost them dearly.

First was inside the paint as UNC outscored them 54-36 in the paint. The Tar Heels also reminded everyone why they continue to be among the best rebounding teams in the country year after year with a 14-8 offensive rebound advantage which they turned into a 17-9 second chance points advantage.

UNC's frontcourt was dominant with Harrison Ingram starting it off having a double-double in the first half on his way to finishing with 12 points and 17 rebounds. Armando Bacot showed why he'll likely be an All-American again in the second half asserting his will on his way to finishing with 25 points and 12 rebounds.

The play of UNC's two stars was crucial overall as RJ Davis also made big shot after big shot on his way to having 20 points and five assists. After the game, Mike Young had plenty of praise for Bacot and Davis.

"[Armando Bacot]'s been a good player in this league for a long time and as has RJ Davis. We had a good plan coming in but those two kids were better than our plan so I tip my cap to the Tar Heels and Coach (Hubert) Davis," Young said.

One thing that helped UNC further was the fact that Tech's frontcourt trio of Mylyjael Poteat, Lynn Kidd, and Robbie Beran dealt with foul trouble. That force Pat Wessler in for a few minutes along with having to send bigs dealing with foul trouble against Bacot which was a recipe for disaster despite their best efforts. Mike Young acknowledged the difficulty of the situation and praised the effort of his team after the game.

"Brutal, managing [foul trouble] from the get go. I think Lynn picked up his first (foul) at the 17-minute mark of the first half. That was hard. I've got to thrust Patrick (Wessler) into a situation he's not ready for. He's coming on, but he fought as they all did. Sometimes, good offense beats good defense and his [Armando Bacot's] good offense beat our good defense routinely," Young said.

The other big problem for the Hokies was the fact that they went cold for the entire second half from three-point range, shooting 1-12 from three in the final 20 minutes of this game. It is rare that the Hokies will shoot under 27% from three-point range, but that was the case as they went 7-26 (26.9%) from three-point range.

"I thought we were getting shots. Those shots were coming from guys we want shooting them in spots we want shooting them. We didn't convert them and you better score with [North Carolina]. They're gonna score. They're very, very good offensively," Young said.

There were plenty of positives for the Hokies as they only had six turnovers in this game. Tech also took advantage of UNC's nine turnovers outscoring the Tar Heels 20-13 in points off turnovers. Tech shot 41.8% from the field including 21-41 from two-point range and 18-20 from the free-throw line despite being on the road against a talented UNC backcourt.

Mylyjael Poteat deserves plenty of praise for how he handled foul trouble and still made a significant impact with 15 points on 5-8 shooting from the field and 5-5 from the free-throw line plus eight rebounds. Meanwhile, Lynn Kidd didn't have a great rebounding night, but he was effective offensively with 11 points on 5-7 shooting and 1-1 from the free-throw line plus two rebounds.

MJ Collins may have been the biggest star of the night as he had one of the best games of his career with 18 points on 7-15 shooting including 2-6 from three-point range plus 2-2 from the free-throw line along with three rebounds and three assists. Collins was probably the biggest reason why the Hokies were able to keep it relatively close in the first half and stay alive in the second half. He also was more than competent running the point for the Hokies, with Mike Young allowing him to do so for the final 8+ minutes with Sean Pedulla on the bench.

Mike Young had plenty of praise for the play of Collins after the game.

"I thought he had a good start. You know what you're gonna get from him. The ball gets to where it's supposed to get. He's not a point guard, but he's a consummate team and wants to do anything he can to help you win and I admire that," Young said.

Tyler Nickel had one of his better games in his first game back at North Carolina since transferring away from the Tar Heels. He finished this game with 14 points on 5-8 shooting including 4-6 from three-point range while also having three blocks and having some solid stretches of defense. If there's one offensive thing that Tech probably wishes was different, it likely would be Nickel getting more three-point attempts in the second half while everyone else was struggling from deep.

This was a shooting day that Sean Pedulla and Hunter Cattoor likely started trying to forget as soon as they left the court in Dean Dome as Pedulla was 3-13 including 0-4 from three-point range on his way to having 10 points while Cattoor was 3-10 including 1-6 from three-point range on his way to having 11 points.

Jaydon Young continues to step up and give Tech quality minutes coming in for 11 minutes in this one and having two points and two rebounds. While his two three-point attempts didn't fall, he looked more than comfortable on the floor and gave Tech some quality minutes for the second-straight game.

Robbie Beran struggled with foul trouble on his way to having no points, one rebounds, one assist, and one steal. Patrick Wessler got thrown into a tough spot and struggled defensively though he had two rebounds while Brandon Rechsteiner made a brief, two-minute cameo appearance during the first half.

In addition to the trio of Bacot, Davis, and Ingram; Cormac Ryan gave Tech issues with 16 points including 4-7 from three-point range while Elliot Cadeau had eight points and four assists though Tech did force him into five turnovers. Jalen Washington gave UNC some quality minutes in the post off the bench with seven points, two rebounds, and one block while Seth Trimble was quietly solid with seven points and four assists.

There's no doubt that any loss is disappointing, but this was always going to be a very difficult game for the Hokies, one that became more difficult due to the frontcourt foul trouble that Tech dealt with. The Hokies are also rarely going to win against good teams when Sean Pedulla and Hunter Cattoor have cold shooting days like they did. The good news is that those two will rarely, if ever outside of today, combine to shoot 6-23 from the field.

Despite that, Tech was able to hang around this game led by some role players stepping up, especially the trio of MJ Collins, Tyler Nickel, and Mylyjael Poteat. They also played some pretty smooth offensive basketball that should be an encouragement for them ahead of a must-win Big Monday against No. 21 Virginia.

It may be a disappointing loss, but there's plenty to be encouraged by for the Hokies, especially given how guys like Collins and Poteat stepped up to keep Tech in it while Cattoor and Pedulla had an atypical shooting day. Add in the fact that Tech hung around in this game against a legitimate national title contender despite their two lead guards having rough shooting days while taking some quality shots, and there's some reason for encouragement.

Of course, Tech does have to be better in the paint though when you're facing Armando Bacot while dealing with constant foul trouble, that will always be a tough challenge.

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