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Virginia Tech Routs North Carolina, Advances To ACC Championship For First Time In School History

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There is no other week in the calendar like tournament week in which the margin between reward and failure is ever-so thin.

On Wednesday night, the Hokies were facing elimination straight in the face. Flash forward to Friday night, and Virginia Tech is heading to the ACC Men’s Basketball Championship for the first time in program history.

Not only did the Hokies record their third win in as many days, but it was against a North Carolina team they had been swept by earlier this season. Mike Young and company had the chance to flip the script, and did so they did, dominating North Carolina, 72-59.

“We played better,” Young said immediately following the victory. “We didn't alter anything. We just did it better. A little better connectivity. A little quicker to the ball.”

After two nerve-wracking performances in the tournament, the Hokies played a solid contest all the way through and never trailed in the second half.

Momentum was a key factor throughout the night for many reasons, but Virginia Tech found its tempo at the right time to close out the first period of play, which was a 9-4 run capped off with a Keve Aluma three-pointer.

It was a very productive half for the Berlin, Md. native, as he led all Hokies with 11 points and 4 rebounds, along with the best +/- rating of a positive 10.

In his two previous meetings against the Tar Heels, Aluma had a pair of good showings, especially facing eventual First Team All-ACC selection Armando Bacot. But he still was lacking a win against the Heels’ star forward.

Aluma vs. Bacot was yet again the focal point of the night, and the two played each other well all evening long. Bacot may have ended with the better numbers, but Aluma was finally able to enjoy the result against one of the best big men in the country.

The Hokies had the lead at the intermission all week long. But could they hold on in the second half? That was the real question.

Halftime is always an opportunity for a surging team to be tripped up or a struggling side to rediscover their game plan out of the break. Neither of those occured. Instead, the Hokies darted out to a 9-0 run, quickly forcing Carolina to use a timeout.

“They understand the significance of that first four minutes,” Young said. “I thought we made a couple of shots, but our defense carried us in that 9-0 run to get some separation and make a little hay.”

Shot after shot started to fall for the Hokies as their lead built up to 20, and it felt as if they were not going to take down the Tar Heels physically, but mentally as well. Just as that feeling began to settle in, a déjà vu moment recurred in the Barclays Center. North Carolina went on a 9-0 run of its, and began to mount a surge.

Cutting the deficit down to 11, the Tar Heel faithful rose to their feet, starting to put the pressure on the Hokies to respond on the offensive end.

And when they needed a bucket the most, Justyn Mutts came through.

Pulling off a splendid post move on Carolina’s Brady Manek, Mutts knocked down a left hook shot to increase the lead to 13. Then on the very next possession, Darius Maddox pulled off a four-point play by hitting a right wing triple that put Tech up 17 after a free throw that was nothing but net.

“Maybe the shot of the game,” Young said on the Mutts basket. “Kind of got us righted, got us going in the proper direction again.”

After that little six-point spurt, it was easy sailing for the Hokies en route to victory and a spot in the ACC Championship for the first time in program history.

In addition to Maddox’s huge and-one three-pointer, he had 13 of his 20 points in the second half, once again demonstrating the growth of his game throughout the course of the 2021-22 campaign. His partner off the bench, Sean Pedulla, also had a large presence in the latter half with all eight of his points coming after the break.

There was a point in time throughout the season where the depth of the Hokies could present problems in big games like the ACC Tournament. But that statement has been repeatedly debunked, especially on Friday as they outscored the North Carolina bench, 28-6.

On a day where some of the biggest bubble teams in college basketball pulled off statement wins; the Hokies showed the selection committee that they should still be considered to be a part of the field of 68.

Now, Tech has put themselves into a position to not worry about if their name will be called, but potentially when they hear their name on Selection Sunday. It will be no easy task against the top-seeded Duke Blue Devils, but at the end of the day, the Hokies are playing for an ACC Championship.

Who would’ve thought?

The two sides have only squared off one time this season, a 76-65 Duke victory in Cameron Indoor Stadium back on Dec. 22, 2021. Just like all three contests at the ACC Tournament, Tech had the lead at the half in that game as well.

A historic opportunity is presented for the Hokies on Saturday night in Brooklyn to cement their name into the record books, and the stage is set to be one of the biggest nights in Virginia Tech men’s basketball history.

You can catch the action starting at 8:30 p.m. with the game being televised on ESPN.

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