The defeat not only spoiled Tech's Atlantic Coast Conference debut, it also snapped a nine-game home winning streak by the Hokies (5-3, 0-1).
“As far as we’re concerned, any road win is good,” UNC coach Roy Williams said. “They came out trying to spread the floor and we didn’t panic. We had enough patience and enough intensity to play defense for the whole 35 seconds, and then go down to the offensive end.”
When the Tar Heels fell behind 20-19 with 7:46 left to play in the first half, the near-capacity Cassell Coliseum crowd of 9,847 had just what it wanted -- a close game -- as unlike all but two of UNC’s previous opponents, VT avoided a Carolina blowout in the game’s early stages.
In fact, the opening night loss to Santa Clara notwithstanding, it was the latest the Tar Heels had trailed in a game this year.
Led by a sticky defense and four first-half 3-pointers by Zabian Dowdell, the Hokies had upset on their minds. Dowdell led all scorers with 21 points.
The score seesawed while Virginia Tech stayed in the game. And two quick fouls on Rashad McCants – one of which was difficult to explain – kept the ACC’s leader in field goal percentage out of his offensive flow in the first half. But the Tar Heels had little problem taking advantage of the out-manned Hokies in the post, and went into the locker room up 41-27 behind 25 combined first half points by Sean May, Jawad Williams and Marvin Williams.
Then Carolina, which shot over 64 percent in each half, extended its lead to over 20 points less than six minutes into the second half.
“We don’t have physical frontcourt players,” said Tech head coach Seth Greenberg. “That’s just the way it is. May and [Jawad] Williams were physical with us and we’re just not there yet. We couldn't compete.”
Other than the fact the Tar Heels turned the ball over 22 times, seven by Raymond Felton, and McCants seemed absent for most of the game -- at least offensively -- Williams said he thought his team “played well.”
However, Felton shot the ball well from the outside –- 3-for-3 from beyond the arc. And McCants did have two blocks, a steal and two assists in just 18 minutes, though he finished with only three points.
“With some teams in the past, even last year, if [McCants] wasn’t scoring, it was difficult for us,” Roy Williams said. “But I liked the way everybody else picked us up and helped us put the ball in the basket. In the last part of the game he was still hustling, and he wouldn’t have even done that in the past. Needless to say, my big worry is not about Rashad McCants.”
McCants’ fourth foul, when he threw Hokies hitman Deron Washington to the floor, smacked of ‘payback’ for an elbow thrown by Washington earlier in the game.
Washington, a freshman forward, was also victimized by a thunderous dunk by May, who finished with 17 points and eight rebounds.
“I haven’t dunked on somebody since I’ve been here,” May said. “There’s been some other people around, but not chest-to chest. I told him, ‘Welcome to the ACC, baby.’”
But as he has all season, it was Jawad Williams who provided consistent play on both ends of the floor. Williams, who has scored in double-digits in every game this year, was 7-for-8 from the floor for 17 points to go with five blocks on the defensive end.
“We just wanted to go out and play our game and hope for a win,” Jawad Williams said. “We just had to bounce back and keep our composure.”
Marvin Williams, in perhaps his best game of his young career, was 5-for-6 from the floor for 12 points, including a couple of outstanding dunks that foreshadowed the special player he is destined to become.
“They played great defense,” Marvin Williams said. “But that’s one of our strengths – to go inside. It was tough. Virginia Tech is a real good team, but we played well, too.”
UNC continued to play some of its best defense in years, holding the Hokies to 36 percent shooting, including 1-for-5 from 3-point range in the second half. Carolina also forced 20 turnovers and won the battle of the boards, 34-24.
The Tar Heels will now play its next four games – all non-conference and all at home – in a 12-day span, before returning to league play versus Maryland on Jan. 8.