No. 11 North Carolina shoots way past No. 10 Virginia Tech

Virginia Tech North Carolina Basketball-2
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North Carolina's Kenny Williams (24) reacts following a 3-point basket against Virginia Tech during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game in Chapel Hill, N.C., Monday, Jan. 21, 2019. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)

Virginia Tech North Carolina Basketball-3
Virginia Tech North Carolina Basketball-1

Sports Writer

Monday, January 21, 2019

CHAPEL HILL — There would be only one way out of the slump and there would be no timid option. North Carolina would have to keep shooting.

The No. 11-ranked Tar Heels kept firing 3s, and would soon find their range from beyond the arc, wearing down a No. 10 Virginia Tech team that eventually withered from the barrage of made 3s. UNC made 16 from deep in all, tied for the most under coach Roy Williams, built a large halftime lead, and kept the visiting Hokies at bay down the stretch while earning a 103-82 win.

“They turned it over in the first half and that gave us a little edge,” Williams said. “Our defense got better when we started shooting the ball in the basket, too. We made a bunch of 3s there.” 

At one dark point in the first half, UNC (15-4, 5-1 ACC) had missed 11 of its first 12 3-point attempts. Meanwhile, VT (15-3, 4-2) had enjoyed the opposite of the Tar Heels’ misery and used a 6-for-7 effort from beyond the arc to build a nine-point lead.

Though that cushion came crumbling down once UNC began to make shots. VT couldn’t keep up as its seemingly improbable early success from deep turned out to be just that as the Hokies fell hard back to reality.

“I was worried to death about the game because I think they’re really, really good and they showed it the first few minutes,” Williams said. “Then we went crazy for a while and that was it after that.”

Part of the problem for VT was that it couldn’t keep its scorers on the floor. Freshman guard Justin Robinson made his first two baskets — both 3s — but his struggles on the defensive end led to a trio of fouls and he watched the final 9:52 of the first half from the bench. Nickeil Alexander-Walker shot 3-of-4 from 3-point range in the first half, yet his three fouls forced him to sit all but 30 seconds of the final 10:48.

That’s when the Tar Heels made their move. Point guard Coby White poured in 13 first-half points on his way to game-highs in points (27), rebounds (7) and assists (6). UNC closed the first half on a 20-2 run, turning a modest four-point deficit into a 45-31 halftime lead.

The scoring run all but ended any threat of the Hokies handing UNC its second home loss in league play.

“I do like it when the ball goes in the basket,” Williams said.

Elsewhere, Garrison Brooks, who stayed away from the 3-point arc, dominated inside for 12 points on 5-of-7 shooting.

“It’s fine, Coach hasn’t given me that freedom yet, but it’s on the way,” Brooks said with a laugh when asked if he felt bad he didn’t get to shoot a 3-pointer. “I should’ve shot one.”

Luke Maye added 14 points and made four of his five 3-point attempts, and Kenny Williams also finished in double figures with 10.

In all, the Tar Heels connected on 15 of their final 22 3-pointers.

Nassir Little, the Tar Heels freshman who had little scoring impact in games against other nationally-ranked teams, shed his training wheels and turned in a signature performance on Monday against a talented conference opponent.

Little scored a new career-high 23 points, and connected on a pair of 3s on consecutive possessions midway through the second half that increased his team’s lead to 80-56 with 8:43 to play.

“Nassir has been amazing the last three games,” Williams said.

It was just the second time all season that Little made at least two 3-pointers, with the other time coming in a win over Elon in the second game of the season. 

The Tar Heels next play on Jan. 29 at Georgia Tech in a 7 p.m. start that kicks off a pair of road games before they return home for a Feb. 5 matchup with N.C. State.