Tar Heels grind out quarterfinal win over Virginia Tech

UNC will play second-seeded Florida State on Friday

UNC's R.J. Davis celebrates after making a 3-pointer during the second half of UNC’s 81-73 victory over Virginia Tech in the quarterfinals of the ACC Tournament in Greensboro. (Photo courtesy of the ACC)

GREENSBORO — After rolling past Notre Dame in Wednesday’s ACC Tournament second round, the Tar Heels found themselves in a dogfight on Thursday.

Coach Roy Williams said that Virginia Tech was faster than Carolina and outplayed the Tar Heels for 20 minutes.

His players agreed.

“They hit us in the mouth pretty hard,” said Leaky Black.

“We wouldn’t have won this game a month ago,” added Armando Bacot.

With several Tar Heels struggling and the team looking out of synch, UNC trailed the Hokies by as many as eight points in the first half and by three at the half.

The team dug deep in the second half, however, and hung in until a late rally pushed Carolina out front. The teams exchanged haymakers down the stretch, but the Tar Heels pulled out a gutsy 81-73 win in the ACC quarterfinals to advance to a semifinal matchup against No. 2 seed Florida State on Friday night.

On a night when Caleb Love shot just 2 of 12 from the field and 1 of 7 from three, and Garrison Brooks, who started, was still clearly feeling the effects of the ankle injury that kept him out of the Notre Dame game, RJ Davis and Day’Ron Sharpe were able to carry the team until late, when Bacot stepped up. Bacot scored 10 straight Carolina points late in the second half, most on offensive rebounds and put-backs of teammates’ missed shots.

Three thoughts

1. Brooks, who injured his ankle against Duke, went through pregame warmups and started the game. He struggled most of the night, however, finishing 2 of 6 from the field for five points with just three rebounds. Williams confirmed afterward that Brooks wasn’t close to 100%.

2. Sharpe made all three of his first-half shots and matched the other three Carolina big men’s point total at halftime. He picked up his third foul early in the second half, however, and added just two second-half points.

3. Due to COVID testing and tracing that shut down the Hokies twice this season, this was the first time Carolina and Virginia Tech met. COVID also impacted the game’s start time after the lead-in — Duke at Florida State — was called off.

Number to Know

13 — After getting just two offensive rebounds in the first half, the Tar Heels pulled down 13 in the second half. Carolina won the rebounding margin by one in the first half but dominated the second, 27-17.

They Said It

“He used the word ‘soft’ a lot.”

— Armando Bacot on Roy Williams’ message to the team at the half.

Player of the Game

RJ Davis — Davis had a season-high 19 points on 6-of-10 shooting, including 4 of 7 on 3-pointers. With the teams exchanging the lead each possession in the second half, Davis stepped up with a 3-pointer, steal and three-point play that gave Carolina breathing room.

Critical thinking

The Heels had no answer for Tech’s Justyn Mutts, who had 24 points on 10-of-16 shooting, and Tyrece Radford, who scored 20 by making 8-of-13 attempts. Both Hokies drove to the basket and scored inside against the Tar Heel defense.