Tar Heels get back on track with win over Virginia Tech

UNC shook off two blowout losses to beat the Hokies

UNC coach Hubert Davis reacts during the Tar Heels' win Monday in Chapel Hill. (Gerry Broome / AP Photo)

CHAPEL HILL — UNC beat Virginia Tech 78-68 at the Smith Center on Monday night, snapping a two-game losing streak that saw the Tar Heels lose by 20 in back-to-back games for the first time in two decades.

The Tar Heels entered the game, UNC’s second of a stretch in which it plays four in a seven-day span, coming off of an 85-57 loss at Miami and a 98-76 defeat at Wake Forest. It was the first time since January 2002 — UNC’s infamous 20-loss season — that the Heels have lost by 20 in two straight and the first time since 1955 that the Tar Heels have lost by 20 to two unranked opponents in a week.

“It showed that we actually do have fight,” said Leaky Black, who doubled his season total for 3-pointers and scored 10 points, his first double-digit game of the year. “The last few games, it seems like after tipoff, we were down by 20. But we really can dig in and gut some wins out.”

The team credited a calm approach from head coach Hubert Davis, who is usually intense. Rather than giving the team the tough practice it was expecting after the two blowout losses, Davis instead led with a gentle hand.

“I think I surprised them,” Davis said. “They thought I was going to be upset, and I was the opposite.”

Davis reminded the team that it was still over .500 and within reach of the top of the league.

“I felt like the team needed to see me not worried, not upset,” Davis said. “I just felt like the guys needed encouragement.”

“He just told us everything we want, all our goals, are still within our reach,” said Brady Manek.

The game against Virginia Tech was originally scheduled for Dec. 28, but COVID cases within the Hokies program forced it to be rescheduled, creating the busy week for UNC.

Prior to the game, Davis continued to be supportive instead of heavy-handed.

“I told them to find joy in the hardness of achieving all their goals,” he said, mentioning a Bible verse from the book of James. “Find joy in persevering through hard times.”

UNC had a fast start, jumping out to a quick double-digit lead as Armando Bacot made his first six shots.

The hard times quickly returned, however, as the Tar Heels had several long stretches where they couldn’t hit a shot. Bacot also found the going tougher as the game went on. The Hokies were physical under the basket, and the big man made just 1 of his next 13 shots after the strong start.

“We stuck together through a tough stretch,” Bacot said. “We had a long stretch where neither one of us could get a bucket.”

Bacot earned a double-double in the first his, his 10th straight game with double-digit points and rebounds. He’s the first Tar Heel to have a streak that long since 1965 and just the third to do it all-time.

He finished with 20 rebounds, becoming just the second Tar Heel to do it twice in the Smith Center.

Coach Davis joked afterward that Bacot’s shooting may have been planned to help boost his rebounding total.

“He wanted to assure himself of a double-double,” Davis said. “I’m going to tell him at practice tomorrow, ‘Why don’t you just make the shot and not miss it purposely to get the rebound?’”

The Hokies remained close throughout the second half, and the two teams were separated by just three points

The Tar Heels closed on a run to extend the lead to as many as 13 points that put the Tar Heels back in the win column at 13-6, 5-3 in the ACC.

“You can’t harp on the past. You have to stay positive, move forward,” said Bacot. “We have a chance to put ourselves in good position this week.”