ACC Basketball: UNC 86, Virginia Tech 78
By Hank Kurz Jr.
BLACKSBURG, Va. ó North Carolina coach Roy Williams found himself asking his team the same question after it lost on the road at Maryland that fans were asking early in the season when the Tar Heels opened Atlantic Coast Conference play with consecutive losses.
“Are we tough enough?” Williams said he asked the team at practice this week.
The second-ranked Tar Heels were plenty tough Wednesday night, going on a 10-0 run after Virginia Tech closed within one point to win 86-78, staying on track to win the ACC regular season title.
“It was big for us, showed some toughness,” said Tyler Hansbrough, who had 22 points and 15 rebounds. “Tonight we stayed within the team and got the shots that we wanted.”
The Tar Heels (26-3, 12-3), who lead Duke by one game heading into their regular season finale on Sunday in Chapel Hill, N.C., clinched at least a tie for the ACC title, and Williams said it is especially gratifying “because everybody was jumping ship after we were 0-2.”
Danny Green, who scored all 10 of his points in the second half and hit two big 3-pointers, said the Tar Heels’ ability to respond when Virginia Tech got close was critical.
“When a team goes on a run and you don’t stop their run, it’s hard to get your momentum back or swing it back your way,” Green said. “We had to at some point stop their run and we stopped it when we needed to, when they tied the score up, and went on our little run.”
Virginia Tech (17-12, 7-8) lost for the fifth time in six games, and again saw its hopes of an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament dashed. The Hokies have lost seven of their last 10 and they finish the regular season at No. 24 Florida State on Sunday.
“We’ve got one more game now,” point guard Hank Thorns said. “It’s time to do it.”
A.D. Vassallo led Virginia Tech with 25 points, while Malcolm Delaney had 19 and Jeff Allen added 18 points and 12 rebounds, but the Hokies never were able to take the lead.
“Sunday’s not do or die,” Hokies coach Seth Greenberg said. “We have a conference tournament to play. We can win games there. … We’ve got to find a way to dig down and grind out the last five minutes of a game. … We’ve got a lot of basketball to play.”
The Hokies got within 63-62 on Vassallo’s floater in the lane with 5:16 left, but Hansbrough hit two free throws and an 8-foot jumper, Ty Lawson made two free throws and a layup and Green finished the 10-0 burst with two free throws to make it 73-62.
Lawson added 22 points for the Tar Heels and Wayne Ellington had 15.
Trailing 42-36 at halftime, the Hokies gradually closed the gap, finally pulling even for the first time since the opening minutes on Vassallo’s runner that made it 50-all.
But Green answered with his first field goal, a 3-pointer from the left corner.
When Vassallo hit consecutive 3s later in the half, the latter tying it at 56 with 9:24 left, Green followed two free throws by Hansbrough and a Hokies’ turnover with another 3-pointer, this one from the left wing, to give the Tar Heels a 61-56 lead with 8:35 left.
The Hokies got it back within one, but the Tar Heels then pulled away for good.
The Tar Heels opened the game with a 17-8 run and led throughout the first half. Tech closed to 39-36 on Allen’s dunk 43 seconds before halftime, but Hansbrough hit a 3-pointer with 4.5 seconds left in the half for the 42-36 lead.
Hokies seniors Vassallo and Cheick Diakite were honored before the game, their last appearances at Cassell Coliseum unless the Hokies wind up with a home game in the NIT.