CHAPEL HILL/SMITH CENTER — North Carolina began its ACC season with a win, defeating Virginia Tech at home on Sunday night. The Tar Heels recovered from a shaky first half to hand the Hokies a 78-64 loss, benefiting heavily from hot three-point shooting.
Perimeter marksmanship has been an issue for these Tar Heels all season — just as everyone expected — and in the recent defeat to Charleston the Heels truly were atrocious shooting the ball.
The first half brought more of the same, and both coaches noted after the game that Virginia Tech simply outfought Carolina in the first half for loose balls and offensive rebounds. Carolina recovered in the second half and eventually opened up distance thanks largely to the exploits of Will Graves (13 points, 3-for-7 on threes) and Larry Drew (14 points, eight assists, only two turnovers and 2-for-2 on threes).
Graves and Drew have been inconsistent this season on an individual basis, and Graves recently has been hampered by an ankle injury. Against the Hokies in what amounted to a must-win for the Heels if they hope to make a serious run at winning the conference, however, both guys stepped forward to hit a series of big shots.
One beneficiary of the club’s improved shooting was Ed Davis, who continues to rank as one of the best players in the ACC. He added another 20 points, 11 rebounds and four blocks on a highly efficient 7-for-11 from the field, making him the most efficient scorer in the conference.
Simply put, the more Carolina is able to get Davis the ball in scoring position — which results when the opponent can’t defend him with multiple defenders while daring the Heels’ guards to shoot — the more wins they'll accumulate.
Elsewhere, freshman Dexter Strickland continues to play more assertively, and fellow frosh Leslie McDonald received 11 minutes of valuable playing time as well. His prospects for the rest of the season depend somewhat on the health of Marcus Ginyard, who returned from ankle injury to play 20 (mostly ineffective) minutes and is not yet 100 percent.
Another key consideration in evaluating this win for the Heels is the reality of Carolina’s upcoming schedule. The ACC placed six teams in the AP top 25 poll this week, so all road games will be difficult for this young, heretofore inconsistent team.
The Heels will get tested at Clemson on Wednesday night, then return home on Saturday to host Georgia Tech.
To see the UNC/Virginia Tech box score, click here.