Lee Luther Jr. - AP
After blowing games against Pittsburgh and Clemson, you didn't think it was possible for the Tar Heels to find a more heart breaking, and frustrating way to lose. Until tonight. For the majority of the game Carolina competed at the level necessary to win on the road in the ACC. They even built a double digit lead which was impressive considering they were without Cole Anthony, Brandon Robinson, Anthony Harris and Sterling Manley. But like in games against Pittsburgh and Clemson, they just weren't tough enough the game. Virginia Tech made plays when they needed to make plays to keep themselves in the game. And once they got hot from deep, you knew in your gut that this was going to end in heartbreak. You have to applaud the effort displayed by Carolina, but we aren't in the business of moral victories. The inability to execute when the game demanded it, is the most frustrating thing because Carolina Basketball is known for the ability to finish games the right way. Tonight it was the Hokies that finished the game, by getting it to overtime then outlasting a exhausted Tar Heel team. Garrison Brook led the way for the Tar Heels with 28 points, and 13 rebounds. It was his 5th straight double double, unfortunately his sometimes heroic performances have ended with a loss. He was one of three players to score double figures, as Carolina only played 7 players. For the game, the Tar Heels shot 44% from the field, and only 32% from distance. Once against foul shots plagued this club again, as Leaky Black failed to convert on critical free throws late in regulation, as they went 14-20 for the game.
For the first time in the history of North Carolina Basketball, the Tar Heels have lost 6 straight ACC games. Any chance of saving this season is all but gone, as at 8-10 there isn't a conceivable way this team finds its way into the NCAA tournament. As hard as the loss was, this team needs to realize the things they did well and build off it. 3 takeaways from a heart breaking loss in Blacksburg:
1. End of Game Offense: The last 4 minutes of regulation, it appeared as if Carolina was just praying the clock would hit double zero with the team in blue having scored more points. Virginia Tech did a great job taking away Garrison Brooks on the interior, which completely frustrated the guards. The final possession the shot clock was well under 10 before any offense was initiated. Some of the end of game struggles is largely due to injuries, which has thrusted players into situations they aren't comfortable in. More discouraging is outside of Garrison Brooks, no player on the floor looked willing to make tough plays to help secure a road victory. It looked like Carolina had never practiced ball and score situations, which you wouldn't think was possible under a Hall of Fame head coach. One thing is for sure is that if this team hopes to win another game this season, they need to be better prepared to finish games offensively.
2. No Bench: Once it was announced that Brandon Robinson didn't travel, the depth of this team was going to factor in the game. I can't tell you the last time Roy Williams played 7 players in a game before tonight. It was going to be interesting how they held up playing 40 minutes, let alone 2 additional overtime sessions. Jeremiah Francis and Christian Keeling combined to score 6 points, as opposed to the 23 points for the Hokies off the bench. There aren't many times using injures as a excuse is reasonable, but this is the rare occasion. There isn't a team in all of college basketball built to withstand missing 4 key rotation players.
3. Effort: In many ways this was the most effort Carolina has played with all season long. They responded after a disappointing effort against Pittsburgh on Saturday. Maybe this team with all its limitations realized how much effort it's going to take to win in this league no matter the venue. If there's any positives you take away it's that this team left it all on the floor, and at the end of the day that's all you can ask for.
Up Next: Carolina returns to the Smith Center on Saturday as they'll host Miami at noon on ESPN2.