Big Monday, bigger statement. Fueled by a 15-2 run late in the first half, the Hokies knocked off No. 10 North Carolina 80-69. It's just Virginia Tech's fourth win over the Tar Heels since 1966, and the first in the last eight attempts.
The decisive win came on the heels of an uneven home loss to Florida State only two days prior. At 2-4 in ACC play, devoid of a marquee 'W', and with a pair of road trips looming, it was a must-win for Tech. 2-5 was too deep a hole for the Hokies to climb out of.
But win the Hokies did. Although the first 15 minutes of play was controlled by the Tar Heels, Buzzketball dominated the final 25.
"I feel the same way that I felt the last time I was in Virginia," UNC head coach Roy Williams said after the game. "University of Virginia kicked our rear ends, and I felt like that tonight."
Early on, the Tar Heels dictated the pace. UNC opened up a lead as large as seven points behind three-pointers and good defense. However, the Hokies closed the first frame on a 15-2 run. Chris Clarke, Kerry Blackshear Jr, Wabissa Bede, and Justin Robinson all kicked in triples to help swing the momentum and score to a 7-point Tech advantage at half.
"The last possession. I'm glad Five [Justin Robinson] made the shot. Chris had that ball with eight seconds left over there in the slot closest to their bench. I thought he played with great poise because we wanted to take the last shot," said Buzz Williams. "This is all so fragile. All of this is fragile. Life is fragile. I thought, at times, we've been fragile over the last 10 to 12 days. And so to close it down and go into the locker room with a little bit of 'ahh...', I thought it was good. I didn't say that, but I felt that. And I think our kids felt it."
After the break, Carolina was able to cut the margin down to two twice, but never regained the lead.
"We got it to a two-point game," said Roy Williams. "Then they make a three, and we miss a defensive assignment, and they score again. They miss a layup, their guy runs by one of our guys, and lays it up again. I'm a little ticked off."
The Hokie faithful have been clamoring for good shooting, fast tempo, disciplined defense, and low turnover rate all season. And that's exactly what they got down the stretch.
Tech finished the game 12 for 30 (40%) from distance. By comparison, against Virginia the Hokies finished 2 for 12 (16.7%) from deep.
"Being unified on defense, getting those stops, can really feed into our offense," noted Blackshear Jr. "We get those easy layups in transition and then three's start to fall."
The Hokies out-ran the Heels, scoring 11 fast break points. UNC finished the night with just four.
On the defensive end, Tech outrebounded the No. 1 rebounding team in the ACC. The Hokies also swiped six steals en route to 13 total turnovers.
Another key to the game, Blackshear Jr. finished the game with one foul. That lone whistle was blown with 3:35 remaining. With foul trouble not an issue, the Hokies' big man played 33 minutes and contributed 16 points plus 5 rebounds.
"I think my teammates did a really good job at positioning," noted Blackshear Jr. "Everybody was aggressive on defense and helping each other. That helped us stay out of foul trouble. It helped us get stops and play fast like we normally do."
The night ended with the Hokies earning their first signature win. Until now, Tech's best win according to Pomeroy Rating was over No. 86 Mississippi. By the same metric, UNC is No. 10.
"When we play as hard as we did tonight, we'll have a chance." explained Buzz Williams. "When we don't turn the ball over, we'll have a chance. When we don't give teams multiple shots, I think this was one of the 7 games we had 63 attempts, and they had 63 attempts, well we'll have a chance. They had 10 offensive rebounds, we had 10 offensive rebounds. We'll have a chance. They had 13 turnovers, we had nine. We'll have a chance. It's just a very thin line."
Although, Williams put the magnitude of such a quality win for his squad into perspective.
"Six weeks to go before Selection Sunday," said Williams. "I think we're at Day 48 before Selection Sunday. I think so many things will change across the country, and I think in this league, and I would have to think on it, but there are nine teams I know with three or more losses. And I honestly believe, and most coaches say this about their own league, I think the margin in this league, this year is for sure the thinnest it's been since I've been here. I think you have to get to plus-one, like I mentioned to you Saturday."
"The thing that I'm most grateful for is the effort that we played with. The energy that we played with. The fight that we played with. I'm thankful that it happened at home."
First Half: Virginia Tech 39–North Carolina 32
18:22 ‒ Nickeil Alexander-Walker drains his first three of the night. He's been stone-cold from range recently. A very welcome sight for the Hokie faithful.
17:22 ‒ Justin Bibbs gets called for a charge. It's the second time tonight that a Hokie guard had an open path to the hoop. Both times a UNC player was waiting to try and take the charge.
14:23 ‒ Luke Maye hits UNC's third three in a row. Yet another game where the Hokies are giving up open looks from deep.
14:01 ‒ This is not related to basketball in anyway. Frank Beamer is the GOAT.
6:17 ‒ Whenever Tech hits a three, UNC has their own answer from deep. Must be frustrating for a team that relies so heavily on three-point shooting.
2:59 ‒ Tie ball game. Bede hits a deep ball, and Cassell is downright deafening. I couldn't hear the whistle just now.
2:07 ‒ Sure. Let's have Clarke hit a three. Why not. Hokies are winning, 33-32.
26.3 ‒ Cassell. Is. Loud. This is my first time on press row during a loud game, and it's absolutely scary. Blackshear Jr. just swirled in a three, and Tech has a 36-23 lead. On a 12-2 run.
00.0 ‒ What a run to end the half. Robinson hits a three at the buzzer, and Tech goes into the locker room on a 15-2 run and a 39-32 lead.
Second Half: Virginia Tech 80–North Carolina 69
17:08 ‒ Bibbs goes 0 for 2 from the line. He's been off all night. He just hit his first shot out of seven attempts a couple possessions ago.
10:40 ‒ It's been back and forth all half. Hokies have opened up an ten-point lead off two Hill dunks. It's so loud in here.
7:47 ‒ All a sudden, Tech has a 13-point lead (64-51). If they can keep their composure, the Hokies are inching closer and closer to their first signature win.
3:35 ‒ Final media timeout of the contest, and Tech has kept their distance from the Heels, up 73-60. Tech is just mere minutes away from knocking off the defending national champs.
3:27 ‒ I'm going to say it. Ballgame. Hill hits a corner three and Tech is up 14.
00.0 ‒ Wow. What a win by the Hokies. Tournament hopes are alive, but just barely.