Mike Young walked into his postgame presser looking a bit more subdued than normal and apologized to the media in attendance as he quickly gobbled down a post-game meal.
It was a long night for the first-year Virginia Tech coach. The Hokies didn't shoot the ball particularly well (14-of-37 from three-point range), had a hard time stopping North Carolina forward Garrison Brooks (28 points and 13 rebounds) and freshman standout Landers Nolley struggled from the field as he went just 5-of-17 shooting for 22 points.
And while in its recent stretch of games, Tech has seen different players step up on various nights — Jalen Cone at Syracuse, Tyrece Radford on the road against Wake Forest, Nolley against N.C. State — this one brought out a strong, collective effort.
"I hope they're growing up," said Young, whose rotation consisted of two juniors, a sophomore and six freshmen in the 79-77 double-overtime win over the Tar Heels Wednesday. "Their coach is growing older by the game. They drive me crazy, in a great way. We played a lot of ball now. We're not new to this. Jalen Cone, Nahiem [Alleyne] — those guys have played a lot of college basketball and we've seen a number of plays."
There's no doubt Tyrece Radford will get a majority of the attention from the victory over struggling UNC, which has now lost six straight in the ACC for the first time in program history. That's well-earned after the gritty freshman took a handoff from Nolley on the right wing and drove hard toward the basket with his left hand before scooping in the game-winning shot over Jeremiah Francis with 0.4 seconds remaining.
But what about the back-to-back 3s from Cone with 3:05 left in the second half that cut the Tech deficit to 59-58? Or when P.J. Horne — the same guy who was shooting 56 percent from the charity stripe this season — hit two free throws to tie the game at 60 and force overtime? Oh, and don't forget Nolley's game-tying layup with 27.4 seconds left in the first overtime or Wabissa Bede's corner 3 right in front of the Tech bench with 4:13 left in the second overtime that gave the Hokies their first lead since the first half.
"It definitely feels great to have one go our way, especially when we're about to have two road games," said Cone, who had a career-high six 3s. "We're just going to keep this momentum and stay together as a team. Our team just loves to fight. We live for moments like this. We just told each other, 'I've got your back and you've got my back.'"
Indeed, they were there for each other on the floor, but that unanimous support wasn't the only thing that stood out in the victory. It was that each one showed us how they're growing up in front of our very eyes this season.
Radford played a season-low 21 minutes. Yet, with the game on the line and Young putting him in primarily for defensive purposes, the 6-foot-2, 195-pound guard found himself with an opportunity to provide the winning score. Sure enough, he provided.
"Boots [Tyrece Radford] coming in, making that play with the game-winning floater, that's what Boots does," Cone said. "He's a dog on both ends. You see he has games with crazy rebounds and points. He stays ready and when we needed him, he came through."
Remember Nolley's late-game blunder in the loss to Syracuse on Saturday? Well, the freshman standout took blame for that and despite not having his best night shooting the basketball, played a big key defensively in slowing down Brooks in the second half and was also the facilitator that got the ball to Radford on the game-winning final play.
"On that play, Landers is driving right at me and I said, 'Play,'" Young said. "It was a high score and the natural instinct for most young people is they get closer to the person they're guarding. They don't want their man to score. Landers made exactly the right play. He didn't make the right play [Saturday]. He's a great player and he learned from his mistake. He drove it as far as he could drive it, gave the ball to Tyrece Radford and he got it into his left hand and got all the way to the rim. He got it home for a nice win."
Bede continued his incredibly efficient season as the engine for this Hokies squad with eight assists and just one turnover. That put him at 120 assists and 30 turnovers for the year, which ranks third in the NCAA behind Pacific's Pierre Crockrell II and Iowa's Connor McCaffery. His 3 in the second overtime also came after some agonizing misses.
"It was just a rhythm shot, it's just a shot," Bede said. "I shoot one every day after practice and before practice. It's just a shot I'm very comfortable with and happy with."
When you looked at the Tar Heels on Wednesday, it was a far cry from the team most folks thought would be coming to Blacksburg at this point in the season. UNC was still without top scorer Cole Anthony (19.1 ppg) along with No. 3 scorer Brandon Robinson (12.1 ppg), freshman guard Anthony Harris (former Tech commit) and Sterling Manley.
That wasn't the case with Mike Young and the Hokies, however, as the deep group of youngsters once again found a way to pull out a win in ACC play. That's something Young said he felt fortunate to earn with a group that's exceeded all expectations.
"I feel relief," Young said. "I feel relieved to have won another ACC game on a night where North Carolina played a good ball game. We had to guard them as good as we guarded them. Of course, [UNC guard] Leaky [Black] is banging threes and Justin Pierce is banging threes. We couldn't have guarded it any differently tonight. With our size compared to their size, our team did exactly what we asked them to do. I am proud of their defensive rebounding and sticking to what we've done throughout to get to this point."
One could argue that a victory against the Tar Heels was one Tech should have expected, considering the struggles UNC is facing this season. And sure, a loss certainly would have put a black eye on the Hokies' resume when it comes tournament time in March.
But the win brought out the best of a little bit of everyone on Tech's roster and that's something Young and the Hokies have to be encouraged with moving forward through the second half of conference play. ESPN's College Basketball Power Index bumped Tech's chances of reaching the NCAA tourney up to 73 percent after the 'W'.
"We will have an opportunity to go back and look at this," Young said about his team slowly maturing. "I do think our team is growing in a number of areas, to be frank."
The first-year Virginia Tech coach, who is quickly becoming a fan favorite, got his ham sandwich. And the young Hokies? Yep. They got yet another improbable win.