Photo Credit: Dave Knachel/Virginia Tech Athletics
After trailing by as many as twelve points in the second half, Virginia Tech found a way to come back against North Carolina in Cassell Coliseum on Wednesday, winning 79-77 in double overtime.
Virginia Tech (14-5, 5-3) crawled back into the game late, sparked by a 13-2 run over a four-minute span from the 13-minute mark to the nine-minute mark. Tech cut the lead to three and never trailed North Carolina (8-10, 1-6) by more than seven the rest of the way.
Junior forward P.J. Horne tied the game with 13 seconds to play in regulation with two made free throws, sending the game to overtime.
In the second overtime, the Hokies trailed by one, 73 to 72. Landers Nolley attempted a jumper but missed, yet he still hustled for his rebound and grabbed the offensive board. He then swung the ball to Wabissa Bede, who found Nahiem Alleyne in the corner for a three-pointer that gave Tech the lead.
“I knew I was going downhill pretty fast,” junior point guard Wabissa Bede said. “Nahiem [Alleyne] did what he does best and made a big-time 3. I was proud of him.”
Bede had a clutch play himself about three minutes earlier when he drained a three to give Tech their first lead since the first half. The veteran point guard finished with eight points, eight assists and five rebounds.
The Hokies and Tar Heels traded buckets twice inside the final minute of double overtime, with Tech getting the final scoring opportunity with nine seconds to play.
Nolley brought the ball up the floor towards the Tech bench and drove towards the baseline. North Carolina stopped the penetration, forcing the redshirt freshman to find another scoring option.
Nolley’s pass found the hands of Tyrece Radford, who attacked the basket with his left hand. He sliced into the lane and floated the ball off the back rim and into the net with less than a second to play.
“I was just thinking ‘we still have a lot of time,’” Radford said. “Four seconds is a lot of time, just like two seconds… it’s just keeping the confidence of the team up.”
Radford’s game-winning shot was the only basket he scored on Wednesday, but a timely one. The redshirt freshman played only 21 minutes due to the production Tech received from Alleyne, but his contributions did not go unnoticed.
“Boots [Tyrece Radford] coming in, making that play with the game-winning floater, that’s what Boots does,” freshman point guard Jalen Cone said. “He’s a dog on both ends of the floor… He stays ready and when we needed him, he came through.”
Cone had quite an evening as well, scoring in double figures for his fifth consecutive game. He made six of his eleven attempts from three-point range, including a few when his team needed it most.
“He turns a couple down every game, it’s like, ‘shoot the ball,’” Young said. “Every time he leaves the ground and shoots the ball, I know it’s going in the basket. When he misses, you kind of scratch your head… When he’s on the floor, you know exactly what you’re going to get – everything he’s got in his heart and soul.”
Cone, who finished with 18 points and seven rebounds, shared the individual lead for Tech in rebounds with Landers Nolley, who played 44 of the 50 minutes, recording 22 points and seven rebounds, including making ten of eleven from the free-throw line.
While the Hokies lit up the scoreboard after the first half, Tech could not seem to find the basket in the first half. Combine that and letting UNC score 26 of their 36 points in the paint and the Hokies trailed by six at halftime.
Tech adjusted, though, doubling the post in the second half and forcing Garrison Brooks away from his “sweet spot,” as Mike Young called it.
“I had an assistant coach tell me to do what we’ve done all year — double the post,” Young said. “In doing so, as good as Garrison [Brooks] is, there are a lot of post players that don’t like that. They’re uncomfortable with it… Now he’s catching the ball three or four steps out of the lane-line and out of his sweet spot.”
The Hokies allowed just 14 points in the paint in the second half and the 2 overtimes thanks to those adjustments. They also started hitting their shots on offense, making 10 of their 22 three-point attempts (45%) after halftime.
Mike Young’s team was able to keep it close down the stretch, similar to their Syracuse game last Saturday. This time, though, Young thought he and the team handled the final shot situation better in part because of the decision to not call a timeout.
“I didn’t want to call a timeout on the possession that won the game,” Young said. “If you call a timeout, the defense can take the ball out of [Wabissa] Bede’s hand, which I don’t want… Landers made exactly the right play... We also had no other choice than to guard them the way we guard them… We did a much better job with that in the second 20 minutes and the 10 minutes of overtime.”
The loss gives North Carolina their sixth consecutive defeat in ACC game for the first time in program history, and their first five-game losing streak in more than 15 years.
As for the Hokies, Virginia Tech gets ready to travel to their two farthest ACC games of the season – at Boston College (Jan. 25) and Miami (Jan. 28). Now at 5-3 in the ACC and 14-5 overall after 19 games, Young is hopeful his team is improving with every game.
“I hope they’re growing up,” Young said. “Their coach is growing older by the game. They drive me crazy, in a great way. We played a lot of ball now… We will have an opportunity to go back and look at this. I do think our team is growing in a number of areas.”