Virginia Tech fell to UNC in the quarterfinals after a Tar Heel surge in the second half after a heavily back-and-forth game.
The Hokies were the 3-seed in the tournament, and UNC was seeded No. 6. Tech hadn’t played since Feb. 27 heading into the matchup due to issues with COVID-19.
The game started with a 2-pointer from the Tar Heels and Tech answered with Tyrece Radford downing another two. Tech started playing decent defense early, but was unable to find the same consistent success on offensive play. The game started to tilt in favor of the Tar Heels toward the end of the first half. The crowd, although not an excuse for Tech as a seasoned team, was certainly in favor of UNC.
Head coach Mike Young was visibly frustrated with the referee going into halftime. Despite the difficulties the Hokies were facing, Tech led 35-32 at the half. The statistics were close, but still in favor of the Hokies at the end of the first. Tech was shooting free throws at 100% and had a field goal percentage of 47 to the Tar Heels’ 44.
At the opening of the second half, the same narrative of back-and-forth play continued. The momentum continued to build for the Tar Heels and they eventually took the lead. The Hokies began to struggle; they were unable to capitalize on UNC’s fouls at the free throw line. UNC outplayed Tech offensively in the latter of the second to seal Tech's fate. Playing defense is essential to any team's game, but Tech found out that alone is not enough to win a tournament.
The Hokies struggled to capitalize on the Tar Heels fouls at the free throw line and UNC’s momentum continued. With 5:48 left in the second, UNC held a 10-point lead of 66 – 56 and there was not enough time for Tech to come back. The final from Greensboro was 81 – 73 in favor of the Tar Heels.
Justyn Mutts was the star for the Hokies on the court, seemingly the only player with energy for the entirety of the game. Mutts was the top point scorer for the Hokies with 38, was strong on rebounds and downed a couple of dunks for the Hokies. He was the main player holding the team together.
Keve Aluma, who has been the main headline for Tech this season, was not present on the court for the Hokies. His low scoring undoubtedly affected the outcome for the Hokies, as they needed their entire team to be available against UNC, who had a strong performance in the second round of the ACC tournament against Notre Dame.
Coach Young was not entirely unhappy with the performance of his team.
“We didn’t play bad tonight,” Young said. “We did not play a poor basketball game. Just not quite good enough against a North Carolina team that’s playing well.”
Neither Wabissa Bede or Mutts pointed to the teams break in play as a source of their inability to take down the Tar Heels.
“I don’t want to blame the loss on the pause,” Bede said. “I think we were very capable of winning the game.”
“I think we were able to stay in good shape throughout the break . . . I feel like everybody had their legs out there,” Mutts said. “I don’t really know what happened.”
Although the Hokies saw their ACC tournament run end much earlier than they had hoped, they are looking ahead to the promising possibility of playing in March Madness.
“Our sadness will be replaced with sheer joy here real soon when I find out what we’re doing on Sunday,” Young said.
It’s disappointing to see Tech's tournament run end abruptly after what was such a strong season for the team. Although UNC was the more skilled team during the matchup, the Hokies put up a fight and kept up with the Tar Heels for a majority of the game. Tech's loss can be partially attributed to its low stamina during play, allowing UNC to take advantage of the momentum they garnered during the second. The Hokies look ahead to Selection Sunday to find the fate of their season.