No. 7 North Carolina looks to right ship vs. Virginia Tech

Feb 13, 2024; Syracuse, New York, USA; North Carolina Tar Heels guard RJ Davis (4) reacts to a play against the Syracuse Orange during the first half at the JMA Wireless Dome. Mandatory Credit: Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports
Credit: Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

For all the good things that No. 7 North Carolina accomplished this season, some of it has been muddied by recent results.

The Tar Heels are coming off another loss when they play Virginia Tech in Atlantic Coast Conference action on Saturday afternoon at Chapel Hill, N.C.

“It’s not going to be easy to get where we want to be,” North Carolina center Armando Bacot said. “There are going to be ups and downs.”

North Carolina (19-6, 11-3 ACC) has lost three of its last five games after Tuesday night’s setback at Syracuse. The Tar Heels’ lead atop the ACC is down to a half-game on Duke entering the weekend.

The good thing for the Tar Heels is that their previous two setbacks during the past few weeks were followed by victories.

Virginia Tech (14-10, 6-7) snapped a three-game losing streak by defeating Florida State 83-75 on Tuesday night at home.

“In the second half, we just did a better job of putting a body on a body,” Hokies coach Mike Young said. “I don’t think we had as many lapses in the second half as we did in the first, which is always a plus.”

Like it did a week earlier vs. Clemson, North Carolina put aside a ragged opening stretch and pulled within striking distance of Syracuse. It just didn’t work out down the stretch.

“We have to step up and make plays and we just didn’t make enough,” Tar Heels coach Hubert Davis said.

Bacot, who dealt with some knee soreness in the game, said it’s clear that opposing teams see the potential for big rewards when facing the Tar Heels.

“We’re getting everybody’s best shot,” said Bacot, whose fourth straight double-doubles marks his longest streak of the season in that category.

The Tar Heels struggled mightily on the defensive end with Syracuse shooting 62.5 percent from the field. That was the highest percentage for any North Carolina opponent in nine years.

“We just didn’t get it done defensively,” Davis said.

Davis pointed to individual defense as being troublesome, leading to collective problems at that end. In five of its six losses, North Carolina has surrendered 80 or more points.

“Pick-and-roll all game and we really couldn’t stop it,” North Carolina forward Harrison Ingram said. “We have to get back to taking pride one-on-one guarding your own man and getting stops.”

Virginia Tech will need another strong rebounding effort in the only scheduled meeting of the season with the Tar Heels.

“We outrebounded Florida State by 12 and were much quicker to the ball than we were (in an earlier matchup) in Tallahassee,” Young said.

Virginia Tech’s Hunter Cattoor notched a season-high 20 points against Florida State.

Hokies guard Tyler Nickel, who played for North Carolina last season before transferring, posted 15 points Tuesday for his second-highest point total of the season.

Guard RJ Davis has been North Carolina’s leading scorer in 19 games this season.

Virginia Tech has won the last two meetings with the Tar Heels, including an 80-72 decision in the most recent clash on Dec. 4, 2022.

–Field Level Media

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