North Carolina has been rolling lately, but Virginia Tech is hoping it can pull off yet another Atlantic Coast Conference upset.
The top-ranked Tar Heels try for their 13th straight victory Saturday when they visit a dangerous Hokies team in Blacksburg, Va.
North Carolina (15-1, 2-0 ACC) held off Virginia 79-69 on Wednesday and has not lost since falling to Gonzaga on Nov. 22 in the semifinals of the NIT Season Tip-Off. The up-tempo Tar Heels, who have outscored their opponents by an average of nearly 24 points, were able to keep their winning streak intact despite being slowed by the Cavaliers.
“Those guys, they really did a great job of slowing the ball down. There’s not a lot of teams in the country that’s going to try to run with us, because we’re very explosive and we do a lot of things with a lot of great players,” said freshman Brandan Wright, who scored 16 points. “They did a great job of slowing the game down.”
North Carolina is second in the country in scoring at 88.8 points per game and eighth in shooting at 50.6 percent.
The win came three days after the Tar Heels routed Florida State 84-58 in their ACC opener. So far, the team, which features three freshman starters, has fared well despite the added intensity of conference play.
“All the guys have been telling us (and) the coaches have been telling us, the intensity level was much higher than any other game we’ve played in this year,” Wright said. “Because this is for positioning. Guys want to go hard in the ACC. It’s the best league in the country, so guys are going to step up.”
Now, the Tar Heels, who are playing their first road game since a 69-48 win at Saint Louis on Dec. 22, will have to deal with a Virginia Tech squad that won at then-No. 5 Duke 69-67 in overtime last Saturday. The victory marked the Hokies’ first road win over a top five team since 1962 at No. 3 Kentucky.
The Hokies are coming off Wednesday’s 74-51 victory at UNC Greensboro on Wednesday. Zabian Dowdell, who leads the team with 16.6 points per game, had 17 against the Spartans.
“I’m really proud of our kids, their approach and how they handled this game,” coach Seth Greenberg said. “Everyone said, ‘Trap game, trap game, trap game’ and ‘What are you doing playing this game?’ They handled it like a senior-oriented team, and that’s very satisfying as a coach.”
The Hokies, who are holding opponents to just 57.9 points per game, are eager to pull off another upset.
“It’s a home game, and I think the crowd on Saturday will be at a fever pitch,” said Coleman Collins, who had 10 points to move over 1,000 for his career. “Anytime the No. 1 team comes into your house, you want to put on a good performance. We always have a chance, especially at home.”
Of course, the Hokies don’t exactly have history on their side. They have lost 18 straight games against the Tar Heels and trail 55-10 in the all-time series.
Virginia Tech is 1-5 all-time against No. 1 teams, with the lone victory coming on Jan. 10, 1983, at home against Memphis State. The Tar Heels are the first ranked team to visit Cassell Coliseum since Massachusetts in February 1996 when the Hokies were part of the Atlantic 10 Conference for basketball.