Tar Heels loss at Virginia Tech raises questions

Coach, star player frustrated with team's energy level and effort

Virginia Tech Hokies guard Justin Robinson (5) shoots against North Carolina Tar Heels guard Kenny Williams (24) in the second half at Cassell Coliseum. (Michael Shroyer / USA TODAY Sports)

BLACKSBURG, Va. — North Carolina suffered a frustrating loss at Virginia Tech on Monday, which may raise red flags on the rest of the Tar Heels’ season.

The Tar Heels unraveled shortly before halftime and saw a seven-point lead turn into a seven-point deficit at the break. The Hokies built the lead to as many as 16 before cruising to an 80-69 win that left UNC head coach Roy Williams questioning the team’s effort.

“I feel like I’m spending too much time coaching energy level,” Williams said. “That’s bothering me. … I used to say I shouldn’t have to coach effort and intensity. I’m trying to coach that and not doing a very good job. That’s frustrating to me.”

Joel Berry II and Luke Maye each scored 23 points to lead the Tar Heels. They were also the team’s top two rebounders, with seven and nine, respectively. The other three UNC starters made one shot each, however. Cameron Johnson was 1-for-9 and was benched for the final 4:43 of the game, in place of sophomore Brandon Robinson. Kenny Williams was 1-for-6 and sat for a long period after picking up his fourth foul early in the second half.

“I think we stood around too much and watched one guy,” Roy Williams said. “Most of the time it was Joel. We watched one guy do it instead of everybody getting involved.”

Berry echoed his coach’s frustration.

“This is conference play, and we can’t take a game off,” he said. “We came out with energy in the first half, and then, toward the end of the half, everything went down. We’ve got to continue to push.”

The fact that the team is still learning this lesson in late January was troubling to the senior.

“That’s the frustrating thing,” he said. “We’re still having some of the same mistakes we were having at the beginning of the season.”

The Tar Heels also struggled on defense. The Hokies knocked down a dozen 3-pointers, which matched their highest total in conference play. They were also able to get to the rim, taking 17 layup attempts in their 36 second-half shots.

“I think that Buzz (Williams, Virginia Tech coach) got his team to be much more aggressive and attentive to all the little details that mean something in basketball to all coaches,” Roy Williams said. “They were more aggressive. They were into it more. I thought their sense of urgency was much greater than ours.”

The Hokies also outrebounded the Tar Heels, who have been the top team in the country in rebounding margin for the last two years.

“We pride ourselves on rebounding,” Berry said. “If any team outrebounds us, we’re not doing what we’re supposed to do.”

Tech improved to 14-6, 3-4 in the ACC. The loss drops Carolina to 16-5, 5-3 in the ACC, 1-3 on the road. It also left the Tar Heels searching for answers.

“I’m a little disappointed,” Williams said. “I’m a little upset. A little ticked off. … We have some issues.”

“It’s not a time to panic,” Berry added, “but it’s a time to change what we’re doing.”