Sloppy Tar Heels Clip Overmatched Hokies

The No. 15 North Carolina men’s basketball team sped away from Virginia Tech Sunday night in the Smith Center to claim a comfortable 68-53 victory and with it, improve to 14-4 overall and 3-1 in league play.

With the loss, the Hokies dropped to 8-9 overall and 0-4 in the ACC.

***Listen to the story***

Despite two referee corrections and three blood stoppages, Carolina used a balanced offense and an energetic defense to pull away from a struggling Virginia Tech squad.

But the postgame locker room was by no means full of smiles. The Tar Heels continued to struggle from the foul line, but the biggest issue for UNC head coach Roy Williams was the 17 turnovers.

Marcus Paige and Justin Jackson on defense (Todd Melet)

Marcus Paige and Justin Jackson on defense (Todd Melet)

Coach Williams was so disturbed by the sloppiness that he’s now holding a practice Monday night. The Tar Heels were previously scheduled to have the day off.

“J.P. [Tokoto] and Marcus  [Paige] both turned it over  way, way too much today just like the rest of our team did. Seventeen turnovers is not something good,” Coach Williams says.

***Listen to Roy Williams’ postgame remarks***

Freshman Justin Jackson led the UNC scoring charge with 16 points, while junior Adam Smith had a team-high 11-point contribution for the Hokies.

Jackson, who also snagged a season-high seven rebounds, says he’s feeling more and more confident.

“To see the ball go through the net a couple times today, definitely helped a lot. I’m feeling more and more comfortable. That just comes with time, so I’m ready,” Jackson says.

The result of the contest was never really in doubt, but despite an overmatched opponent, the Tar Heels struggled to force the tempo at times and didn’t look sharp for lengthy stretches.

“I want to lay, but we’re not playing nearly as fast as I want them to play. I think we’re playing very average pace, and I’d like us to play faster for sure. But it is a challenge because the other team is very well coached,” Coach Williams says.

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On a positive note for UNC, Coach Williams had ample time to work his entire bench into the game, giving guys like Joel James and Jackson Simmons meaningful minutes.

Buzz Williams breathes down the neck of an official (Todd Melet)

Buzz Williams breathes down the neck of an official (Todd Melet)

The Tar Heels jumped out to a quick 7-0 lead just under two minutes into the contest thanks to baskets by Brice Johnson, Jackson and a deep three-pointer by Paige.

Brice Johnson shoots over  a Hokie defender (Todd Melet)

Brice Johnson shoots over a Hokie defender (Todd Melet)

But the Hokies started to drain shots of their own and withe 14:12 on thee first half clock, UNC held a slim 12-11 edge.

After a stoppage in play to clean up some profusive bleeding on the court, a couple emphatic slams by Johnson and J.P. Tokoto fired up the crowd and gave UNC a 23-16 advantage with 8:22 to play in the opening half.

Meanwhile, Virginia Tech head coach Buzz Williams, jacket-less and animated, patrolled the sidelines with a zeal that will be welcome in the ACC for years to come. Not to mention, Coach Williams was sweating up a storm and was luckily, armed with myriad towels.

But the real reason for concern for Coach Williams was his team’s inability to knock down shots, even wide open attempts. Yes, UNC was playing spirited defense at times, but shots were also missed, some badly.

At the intermission, the Tar Heels sported a 34-21 lead thanks in large part to dominance on the boards. UNC held a 27-12 edge in rebounds.

A Tokoto steal and finish on the other end set the tone for the second half as UNC continued to play alert, heads-up defense to stifle the Hokie attack.

Kennedy Meeks jumps up to the basket (Todd Melet)

Kennedy Meeks jumps up to the basket (Todd Melet)

With 15:53 to play, the Tar Heels held a commanding 40-25 advantage.

From there, Johnson made his presence known with back-to-back finishes around the rim that induced a timeout from the Hokies, who then trailed by 17 points and could never mount a serious rally the rest of the way.

Next up for the Tar Heels is a midweek meeting at Joel Coliseum to face the Wake Forest Demon Deacons Wednesday at 7 p.m.


Carolina Welcomes Virginia Tech To Smith Center

The No. 15 North Carolina men’s basketball team, 13-4 overall and 3-1 in the ACC, returns home to the Smith Center to take on struggling Virginia Tech, 8-8 on the season and 0-3 in league play, for a 6:30 p.m. tipoff Sunday.

***Listen to the story***

A 71-70 loss at the hands of the hot-shooting Fighting Irish is the only recent blip on an otherwise stellar stretch for the Tar Heels.

Carolina, fresh off an 81-79 road win at N.C. State, has won seven of its last eight outings and will be heavily favored to emerge victorious again against the lowly Hokies.

But the Tar Heels have thinned out at the point guard position, losing freshman Joel Berry to a strained groin for at least the next two weeks.

Paige and the Tar Heels scarped by N.C. State Wednesday (Todd Melet)

Paige and the Tar Heels scarped by N.C. State Wednesday (Todd Melet)

Coach Williams says Berry’s injury puts a hold on his plans to play three point guards more often.

“My Kansas team played in the Final Four, and we started three point guards all year. That was a comfortable way to play. I had wanted to get to that point, we finally did it, and then Joel gets hurt. The next two to three weeks we’ll be without it,” Coach Williams says.

Junior point guard Marcus Paige got back in rhythm and rediscovered a consistent shooting touch last time out, notching 23 points to go along with nine assists.

But Paige says the Tar Heels must play smarter in the waning minutes of ACC games in order to make life easier on themselves.

“We fouled the guy on the three-point shot in the corner and he makes it. Those are things that lose you basketball games on the road, but we were able to make enough free throws. We responded well enough, but there are a lot of things we can look at in this game [vs. NC State] that don’t tilt in our favor that we can correct,” Paige says.

Sophomore forward Isaiah Hicks provided a spark to his team Wednesday night on the road, finishing with 12 points on 6-7 shooting. What’s more, Hicks seemed to set an aggressive tone with emphatic finishes around the basket.

Coach Williams says Hicks, who has been UNC’s defensive player of the game a team-high six times this season, has tremendous potential and finally got his hard work to pay off with meaningful minutes on the offensive end.

“It’s 18, 19 and 20-year-olds. We do the same drills and the same sprints. I would think that the stars and the moon weren’t aligned properly there for a little while, because he works awfully hard,” Coach Williams says.

Tokoto plays defense (Todd Melet)

Tokoto plays defense (Todd Melet)

Junior forward J.P. Tokoto, meanwhile, leads UNC in both assists and steals with 21.

But Tokoto and company will do well not to underestimate Virginia Tech. Freshman guard Justin Bibbs and redshirt junior Adam Smith can both knock down perimeter shots with laser-like accuracy for the Hokies.

The Tar Heels lead the all-time series with the Hokies 64-13 and sport an 11-3 record since the Hokies joined the ACC prior to the 2004-05 season.

UNC has won nine of its last 10 meetings with Virginia Tech, but barely escaped by a 60-56 margin a year ago in Blacksburg.

Hokies Thump Tar Heels 34-17

The North Carolina football team committed sloppy mistakes and was unable to get its offense going early in a 34-17 loss to Virginia Tech Saturday afternoon at Kenan Stadium, dropping to 2-3 on the season.

With the victory, the Hokies improved to 4-2 in 2014.

***Listen to the recap***

Virginia Tech running back Marshawn Williams rumbled for a touchdown and Hokie signal caller Michael Brewer added another through the air to help guide the visiting team to a vital ACC win. The Hokies capitalized with 21 points on Tar Heel turnovers.

The UNC defense kept them in the game with an impressive third quarter in which they limited the Hokie offense to a mere 22 yards and recorded five tackles for a loss, but it wasn’t enough to overcome the 21-point halftime deficit.

“That whole first half, for whatever reason, we kept shooting ourselves in the foot. We didn’t give ourselves a chance to win the football game,” UNC head coach Larry Fedora says.

On the opening play of the contest, UNC junior quarterback Marquise Williams coughed up the ball on a sack, setting the Hokie offense up for an early touchdown thanks to an eight-yard scoring run by freshman back Marshawn Williams just 44 seconds into the game.

Photo courtesy of Elliott Rubin

Norkeithus Otis watches the VT QB (Elliott Rubin)

The Tar Heels answered back with a methodical march down the field on the ensuing possession, but the home team was forced to settle for a 20-yard field goal by sophomore Nick Weiler when a third down pass slipped through senior tight end Jack Tabb’s fingertips in the end zone. At the 11:38 mark in the first quarter, the Hokies held a 7-3 advantage.

The Hokies continued to move the ball successfully against a reeling Tar Heel defense, converting on two third downs and a fourth down to keep the drive alive. VT quarterback Michael Brewer tossed a 26-yard scoring strike to receiver Bucky Hodges with 5:59 on the first quarter clock to give the Hokies a 14-3 lead.

The defenses largely dominated the second quarter of play until the waning moments before halftime. A 27-yard field goal Joey Slye pushed the Hokie lead up to 17-3 with 1:44 before halftime. Then, a poor decision by UNC redshirt freshman quarterback Mitch Trubisky led to a 47-yard interception return for a touchdown by VT sophomore cornerback Kendall Fuller.

As the two teams trotted into the locker room, Virginia Tech held the 24-3 lead.

The third quarter went the way of the defenses with both offenses struggling to sustain any kind of momentum thanks to dropped balls and sloppy penalties. The scoreboard didn’t change.

The Bell Tower overlooking Kenan Stadium (Elliott Rubin)

The Bell Tower overlooking Kenan Stadium (Elliott Rubin)

A beautiful punt by Tommy Hibbard was downed inside the Hokie 1-yard line. Then, M.J. Stewart’s first career interception set up a great scoring opportunity for the Tar Heels. A couple plays later, freshman Elijah Hood punched in a 1-yard run for a touchdown that cut the Hokie lead down to 24-10 with 13:19 left to play in the game.

From there, with the game in hand, the Hokies began to grind out the clock, putting the finishing touches on an important road win in the ACC Coastal race.

Next up for the Tar Heels comes a tough road game at South Bend next Saturday against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish.


Virginia Tech, UNC Look To Stay Alive In ACC Coastal

The North Carolina football team, 2-2 on the season, will return home to Chapel Hill on Saturday to host a pivotal ACC Coastal 12:30 pm matchup against 3-2 Virginia Tech.

***Listen to the preview***

When facing the Hokies, an opponent typically expects a heavy dose of old-fashioned, ground-and-pound action from the running backs.

But with the loss of talented freshman back Shai McKenzie last weekend, UNC head coach Larry Fedora says he expects a different game plan that will include more passing. The Hokies have a capable quarterback in the form of Texas Tech transfer Michael Brewer.

“He’s [Brewer] doing a nice job for them. They have some big receivers. No. 7, he reminds me a lot of [Eric] Ebron. He’s really a big, physical and athletic kid. They have two very nice tight ends and are big on the outside as well. He’s doing a very nice job of spreading the ball around,” Coach Fedora says.

vt qb

VT QB Brewer (

The Hokie defense, however, has always been the bedrock of Virginia Tech football. This year, is no exception. The Hokies lead the nation with 41 tackles for a loss and also top the national charts with 21 sacks.

Coach Fedora understands the stiff defensive challenge that will roll into Kenan Stadium Saturday.

“Bud Foster [VT def. coord.] is one of the best out there. Year in and year out, his defense is always going to be up there. He’s evolved with them over time. They press you, play man coverage and outnumber you in the box. Other than Georgia Tech, I don’t think anybody has rushed for over 100 yards against them yet,” Coach Fedora says.

The UNC offense is averaging 40.8 points per contest. That total is good enough for 23rd in the nation, but inconsistency of the attack has been the frustrating issue for the coaching staff and players.

Coach Fedora, though, is not pinning any of the blame on new offensive coordinator Seth Littrell.

“I really don’t think the coordinator has had an effect as much as the people actually running it. The calls are pretty much the same as we’ve always done. The offense hasn’t changed. We’ve had to adapt the offense according to some of the talent that we have,” Coach Fedora says.

All eyes inside Kenan Stadium will be on the work in progress that is the UNC defense. Senior defensive tackle Ethan Farmer says the Tar Heels will have their hands full against the Hokies.

“They’re big up front. They have key offensive linemen back. Of course, they have a brand new quarterback. Their offensive line has always been extremely good. We are going to be challenged, as always, this week,” Farmer says.

Special teams play could prove to be the deciding factor Saturday. Coach Fedora says strong-legged senior punter Tommy Hibbard has been responding well to everything they’ve been asking him to do.

“What we do with him is difficult to do. The reason we do it is because it makes it much more difficult on the punt return unit. He has really handled that well. There are opportunities for him to boom the ball sometimes, but that’s not really what we want done. It’s always about our net and not his average. We ask him to hang it up there sometimes or put it inside the 10-yard line,” Coach Fedora says.

Hibbard in action (UNC Athletics)

Hibbard in action (UNC Athletics)

Both teams harbor hopes of winning their conference division and playing for an ACC title in Charlotte come December. With that in mind, Farmer says the Tar Heels recognize the significance of the game.

“We have goals. They have goals. It’s a big-time game for both teams. We’re going to come out ready to play. That’s our season goal – to be ACC champs. We know that starts with Virginia Tech. It previously didn’t happen against Clemson, but we’re going to be fine Saturday,” Farmer says.

Virginia Tech leads the all-time series with Carolina 19-11-6 and sports an 8-2 mark in ACC contests. The Hokies are the only team from Virginia that boasts a winning football record against the Tar Heels.

But this year’s edition is a vital chapter in the rivalry. None other than Virginia Tech head coach Frank Beamer says Saturday’s meeting is a must-win for both schools.

“You never know how it’s going to work out down the road, but starting off 0-2 in conference is not a great starting point. I think both of us understand it’s a critical ballgame,” Coach Beamer says.

Scouting Report: A Chat with VT Coach Frank Beamer

WCHL’s Matt Oakes caught up with legendary Virginia Tech head football coach Frank Beamer this week. The two discussed the competitiveness and depth in the ACC,  how to replace injured Hokie freshman running back Shai McKenzie and of course, previewed what Coach Beamer is calling a ‘must-win matchup’ with UNC this weekend.

***Listen to the conversation***

Carolina Baseball Completes VT Series Sweep

The North Carolina baseball team is rolling once again. With a 5-4 win Sunday afternoon at Boshamer Stadium, the Tar Heels completed a series sweep over the Virginia Tech Hokies and improved to 27-18 overall and 13-11 in league play.

With the loss, the visiting Hokies dropped to 18-25-1 on the year and 13-11 in the ACC.

Carolina was made to work in all three games of the weekend, but earned gutty come-from-behind victories in every one of them, including on Sunday, when Tyler Ramirez’s sacrifice fly sent Michael Russell across home plate in the bottom of the ninth to snatch the sweep.

The in-form Russell extended his career-long hitting streak to 17 games with three hits in the series finale as Carolina extended its head-to-head dominance against Virginia Tech. Head Coach Mike Fox’s team hasn’t lost to the Hokies since 2007.

The Carolina bullpen’s tenacity coupled with timely, opportunistic hitting provided the winning formula for a UNC team that has been searching for some momentum heading into postseason play.

The Tar Heels will next play host to East Carolina Tuesday at 6 p.m. before taking an exam break. Carolina will have revenge on its mind as the Pirates defeated the Tar Heels down in Greenville just last week.

Diamond Heels Rally By Hokies In Series Opener

The North Carolina baseball team rallied past Virginia Tech Friday night, earning a 3-2 victory to improve to 25-18 on the season and even the ACC record at 11-11.

With the defeat, the Hokies dropped to 18-23-1 on the year and 7-15 in conference play.

In the first inning, starting UNC pitcher Trent Thornton worked his way out of a jam.

Carolina’s Wood Myers was struck in the hand by a pitch in the second inning and hit the ground for a few minutes. He recovered to take his base, but he was replaced shortly after by Alex Raburn. After the game, Myers was diagnosed with a non-displaced fracture in one of his fingers and should be out at least four weeks.

Michael Russell recorded Carolina’s first hit of the night in the bottom of the third inning, slipping one up the line by the third baseman. But no runs would come off his efforts.

A double play for the Tar Heel defense put an end to the Hokie offense in the top of the fourth, but the Carolina bats continued to struggle against Virginia Tech slinger Sean Keselica.

A double by Virginia Tech’s Logan Bible put Thornton under pressure once again in the fifth inning with two men on base and no outs. But the sophomore displayed tremendous tenacity, escaping the inning with no damage.

The top of the sixth inning produced some more trouble for Thornton. This time, an error and a stolen base put runners on both corners with one out. And matters got worse when Keselica was walked to load the bases.

Thornton could not go unscathed to this challenge, surrendering two runs that gave the visiting Hokies the 2-0 advantage.

Adam Pate’s leadoff hit in the bottom of the sixth spurred on an offensive explosion from the Tar Heels with walks and base hits aplenty. The Virginia Tech first baseman dropped the ball on a chance for a double play. The Tar Heels cashed in with two runs to tie the game at 2-2.

Trevor Kelley replaced Thornton on the mound in the seventh inning, delivering some stress-free innings of work with the game hanging in the balance.

Pate once again found his way first base to open proceedings in the bottom of the eighth. Russell followed with a double, his sixteenth of the season.

The Tar Heels grabbed the 3-2 lead thanks to another blown chance at a double play for the Hokies.

Kelley was relieved of his pitching duties by Reilly Hovis in the ninth inning. Hovis closed out the tight contest in style to the delight of the Tar Heel faithful in attendance.

Diamond Heels Host Hokies With Targets On Backs

The North Carolina baseball team, 24-18 on the season, opens a three-game ACC series with Virginia Tech, 18-22-1 overall, Friday at Boshamer Stadium

The Diamond Heels are coming in to their matchup with the Hokies off a much needed Wednesday victory over an in-form Liberty team ranked No. 30 in the nation.

***Listen to the story***

Virginia Tech, meanwhile, is in desperate need of success. The Hokies are on the outside looking in right now in the ACC race. Only the top ten squads in the league standings make the ACC Tournament in Greensboro. The Hokies sit in eleventh position while the Tar Heels check in at No. 8.

One of the keys to deciding this weekend’s series will be Carolina’s run support for its pitching staff.

Head Coach Mike Fox says UNC’s offensive catalyst runs through the hard working Michael Russell.

“He started off a little slow – just trying a little bit too hard. He’s kind of settled in and is playing with a lot of confidence. He’s such a hard worker and very detailed-oriented. He wants to win,” Coach Fox says.

Coach Fox says freshman slinger Zac Gallen’s struggles from the mound this year are surprising considering how well he performed in the lead-up to the 2014 campaign.

“What’s funny about Zach is that in the fall, he didn’t walk a batter. He was the best strike thrower on our team. He’s hit a little rough patch there where he hasn’t had the command,” Coach Fox says.

Carolina’s up-and down season may have a lot to do with the extreme youth and inexperience on the roster. But Coach Fox and the players aren’t making any excuses.

Coach Fox says his guys have to be fired up and ready to compete at the highest level every outing, especially due to the name on the front of their jerseys.

“Us being the state school and obviously our history, we got a target on us no matter what. If you don’t like Carolina, you generally dislike Carolina. That’s the case. But I think once the game starts, it’s just kids competing against one another,” Coach Fox says.

The Tar Heels will have another opportunity to defend their home turf this weekend for what is shaping up to be a beautiful three days at Boshamer Stadium.

Carolina leads the all-time series with Virginia Tech 64-23-2 and has not lost to the Hokies since way back in 2007.

Make It Eleven! Carolina Escapes Virginia Tech 60-56

The North Carolina men’s basketball team eased past Virginia Tech 60-56 Saturday afternoon in Blacksburg to improve to 22-7 overall an 12-4 in conference play.

***Listen to the story***

With the loss, the Hokies fell to 9-19 on the season and 2-14 in the ACC.

The Tar Heels struggled to find their form early on, falling behind 16-11 with 9:49 on the first half clock, but the shots started falling with electric plays by Marcus Paige and J.P. Tokoto.

UNC maintained a six to eight point lead for most of the second half of play, eventually salting away the victory with some great hustle plays and some timely makes by James Michael McAdoo.

“Virginia Tech’s zone defense really gave us problems. We didn’t get the kind of movement we’d been getting nor did we shoot the ball as well. A week ago we shot 70 percent from three and all this kind of stuff. We didn’t do it very well today and didn’t make free throws down the stretch either. You got to congratulate them for their defense bothering us,” Coach Williams says.

***Listen to Roy Williams’ postgame remarks***

McAdoo led the scoring charge for the Tar Heels with 15 points while Leslie McDonald provided a nice contribution with 14 points despite major struggles from the free throw line down the stretch.

As for the Hokies, Jarell Eddie led the way with 18 points, but it wasn’t enough to overcome the tenacious Tar Heels.

The Hokies won the opening tip, but failed to convert. The Tar Heels wasted no time getting on the board with a Kennedy Meeks score inside.

Leslie McDonald popped a three-pointer to push Carolina out to a 5-0 lead with 18:10 to play in the opening half. McDonald then pushed it to the rim for an easy layup to increase the advantage out to 7-0.

McDonald dribbles around a VT defender (Todd Melet)

McDonald dribbles around a VT defender (Todd Melet)

Virginia Tech started to find some holes in the UNC defense and made a couple baskets to close the gap down to 9-4 with 15:10 to play in the half.

Trevor Thompson knocked down a jumper to close the margin down to three at 9-6. And after a Carolina score, Thompson went back to work to narrow the gap back down to 11-8 with 12:30 to go in the half.

The game was locked up at 11-11 with the first Hokie three-point make of the game. Virginia Tech spurted ahead to a 16-11 advantage with 9:49 left on the first half clock.

Carolina went through a stretch of shooting 1-10 from the field to allow Virginia Tech to seize the momentum of the contest in Cassell Arena.

The Hokie defensive intensity was definitely making life difficult for the Tar Heels in the first half.

McAdoo flew into the paint and finished with a beautiful dunk to reclaim the lead for the Tar Heels at 17-16 with 6:19 to play. And it was 10 unanswered points when J.P. Tokoto took off with an aerial assault that pushed the lead out to 21-16.

Marcus Paige darted inside and pulled up for jumper that went through the nets. Carolina took the 23-19 lead with 3:02 to play in the first half.

McDonald got a couple more points added to the scoreboard on a goal tending call on Virginia Tech to push the UNC lead out to 28-21.

As both teams jogged into the locker rooms, Carolina held the 28-21 lead at Virginia Tech.

The halftime stat sheet read in favor of the Tar Heels with UNC shooting at 38.7 percent clip from the field while Virginia Tech only managed to knock down 32 percent from the floor.

Carolina’s  Leslie McDonald led the way with seven points while Hokies Devin Wilson and Thompson each posted four points.

Carolina wasted no time to score in the second half, but Virginia Tech responded on the other end, and the scoreboard read 30-23 with 18:45 to play in the game.

McDonald swished a three-pointer from behind the arc to extend the lead out to 34-25 with 16:02 left in the contest.

McAdoo matched a Johnson three-pointer with a make on the other end to keep UNC’s nose in front. The Tar Heels maintained a 36-28 advantage with 14:10 to play.

Wilson drove to the rim and drew a foul to get sent to the free throw line. He converted on both foul shots to cut the lead down to 36-33 with 12:48 to play.

Virginia Tech tied it up at 36 points with a long-range three-pointer to ignite crowd. Tokoto answered for the Tar Heels to nudge them out in front 39-36.

Tokoto stepped up again with a physical conversion in the paint. to push the Tar Heel advantage out to 42-36 with 9:45 to play in the game.

Tokoto soaring (Todd Melet)

Tokoto soaring (Todd Melet)

Virginia Tech cut it to within two points at 42-40, but McDonald knocked down a big three-point shot to keep Carolina up 45-40 with 8:02 to play.

****Listen to the call by Jones Angell of the Tar Heel Sports Network***

Paige scored an insurance bucket for Carolina to extend the lead out to 47-40. McAdoo fed off the energy and in an instant, UNC had gained a more comfortable 49-40 advantage.

McAdoo hit a deep jumper to keep the Hokies at bay and continue the offensive surge for the Tar Heels. But Virginia Tech responded with a three-point play. The Tar Heeld led the Hokies 51-45 with 5:06 left in the game.

McAdoo came up with another impressive play to improve his tally up to 13 points and give the Tar Heels the 55-47 lead with 2:30 to play.

Carolina was able to salt away the road victory to record an eleventh straight win.

Next up for the Tar Heels is a return to the Smith Center to take on Notre Dame Monday night.

Click here for full game photo gallery.

Final Box Score

No. 19 Carolina Visits Blacksburg In Search Of Eleventh Straight Win

The No. 19 North Carolina men’s basketball team, 21-7 on the season and 11-4 in the ACC, will be looking for win number eleven in a row Saturday afternoon in Blacksburg when it meets Virginia Tech, 9-18 overall and 2-13 in conference play.

***Listen to the story***

Coach Williams reflects on the classic encounter between his team and N.C.State over in Raleigh Wednesday night.

“Marcus was just unbelievable in the second half. I told our guys I didn’t know what to say. Heck of a basketball game if you’re are just a fan. The problem is we’re not just fans; we care about how our team does. We thought we’d just given one away, then all of a sudden at the end, feel like we’ve stolen one,” Coach Williams says.

The Tar Heels will have to be road warriors again this weekend. The 2:30 p.m. tip in Cassell Arena will pit one of the hottest teams in the nation against one of its most struggling squads.

The Hokies have lost 13 of their last 14 games, but the streaking Tar Heels would do well not to overlook them.

Last season, Virginia Tech gave Carolina a scare, pushing the Tar Heels to overtime in Chapel Hill before UNC was able to finally pull away, snagging the 72-60 victory.

Sophomore point guard Marcus Paige says it’s important for him to be aggressive and take the ball to the basket in the waning minutes of games.

“Once it comes crunch-time, when you’re in the bonus you have to attack. You can’t afford to shoot contested jump shots. You have to put pressure on the refs and put pressure on the defense to try to make something happen,” Paige says.

Coach Williams says Paige is a gamer, saving his best for the big-time moments when everything is on the line.

“He’s a confident youngster. He’s a tough youngster. He’s competitive. He’s willing to try to make plays. One night in high school he scored like 18 points in less than three minutes. It may have been less than one minute. I don’t know. It was just weird. He’s a competitive rascal. He doesn’t mind taking shots when they really mean something,” Coach Williams says.

With just two more games remaining on the regular season schedule following the Virginia Tech contest, the banged up Tar Heel players can now see the finish line.

Fighting for the ball. (Todd Melet)

Fighting for the ball. (Todd Melet)

Paige says the season is definitely wearying, but that he’s been taking extra precautions to limit his fatigue as much as possible. However, Paige says Coach Williams has little mercy for his players when it comes to the long season.

“I do stuff every day with our strength coach and our trainer – stretching every day. It’s a long season, especially with the extra practices we had at the beginning of the year. Coach Williams will always say we’re 18, 19, and 20 years old. We can do this. This is what we do,” Paige says.

Carolina finished 8-0 in the month of February, making it the fifth time in the last 50 years the Tar Heels have gone undefeated in February. But the calendar has flipped to March. UNC will be hoping to start off this new month 1-0 on Saturday.