For about 30 minutes on Thursday night, it looked like the No. 3 seeded Virginia Tech Hokies were going to take down the No. 6 North Carolina Tar Heels in the ACC Tournament quarterfinals.
Unfortunately for the Hokies, UNC’s depth and size proved too much in the second half as the Tar Heels pulled away for a hard-fought 81-73 win. North Carolina will face No. 2 seed Florida State on Friday.
Despite Carolina’s tremendous size advantage, Virginia Tech controlled the interior for the first 20 minutes of the game. Tech did a good job of forcing UNC to settle for jump shots, and the entire VT team did an excellent job of boxing out and keeping the Heels off the glass.
With the game tied around the 10-minute mark in the second half, the Tar Heels went on a 7-0 run to make 56-49, and they never looked back. Up until that point, Virginia Tech led for much of the game.
Entering Thursday’s game, there was a concern with the Hokies coming off a second COVID pause. The rust was apparent in the return from the first pause, but Tech looked much better this time. The Hokies were facing a talented North Carolina team finding its stride at the perfect time.
Virginia Tech head coach Mike Young outcoached Hall-of-Famer Roy Williams for much of the game. The Hokies just wore down late.
Justyn Mutts was outstanding for the Hokies, scoring 24 points and pulling down eight rebounds. Mutts was terrific down low, from beyond the arc and on the defensive end. His fellow frontcourt teammate, Keve Aluma, struggled. Aluma made just four of 13 field goals and scored nine points to go along with eight rebounds.
Aluma battled until the end, especially on defense, but his shot wasn’t falling on Thursday.
Tyrece Radford also played a strong game for the Hokies, finishing with 20 points and seven rebounds.
Virginia Tech made eight of 18 3-point attempts without Jalen Cone. Hunter Cattoor scored six points off the bench; other than that, the Hokies received just two points from their bench.
While this is certainly a disappointing loss, the Hokies can now look forward to Selection Sunday.
In the rest of the ACC, the No. 1 Virginia Cavaliers defeated No. 8 Syracuse when freshman Reece Beekman hit a 3-pointer at the buzzer to give the Hoos the walk-off win. UVa plays No. 4 Georgia Tech on Friday. The Yellow Jackets escaped another feisty effort from the No. 13 Miami Hurricanes.
Florida State, which got Thursday off after Duke’s positive COVID test eliminated them from the tournament, plays the Tar Heels in the late game on Friday night.