North Carolina’s upcoming game against its arch-rival will inevitably have some bearing on the ACC title race. The Tar Heels can take away some of the drama with a victory before that matchup, however.
The second-ranked Tar Heels look to earn a share of their third straight conference title with a victory over Virgina Tech on Wednesday night.
North Carolina (25-3, 11-3) has a half-game lead over No. 7 Duke in the ACC following the Blue Devils’ 84-81 win over No. 24 Florida State on Tuesday.
Even with a loss to the Hokies (17-11, 7-7), the Tar Heels can still earn a piece of the title with a victory in Sunday’s regular-season finale against the Blue Devils in Chapel Hill. North Carolina would win the title outright with wins in its final two games, but back-to-back losses would make Duke champion.
“We’re taking it one game at a time, and we’re not looking ahead,” Tar Heels senior Danny Green said. “I feel like if we do the little things, everything else will take care of itself.”
Green had 23 points in Saturday’s 104-74 win over Georgia Tech, an important victory following a disappointing 88-85 overtime loss to Maryland on Feb. 21, when North Carolina squandered a nine-point lead in the final two minutes of regulation.
“This whole team was kind of miserable for a week,” senior forward Tyler Hansbrough said. “We were more of a team (Saturday).”
Hansbrough had 28 points and 10 rebounds Saturday and made eight free throws, giving him 907 for his career to break Dickie Hemric’s NCAA record of 905 free throws made.
Hansbrough, who is 91 points shy of JJ Redick’s ACC career scoring record (2,769), made one of his most memorable shots in North Carolina’s 68-66 victory over Virginia Tech in last season’s conference tournament semifinals - the last meeting between these two teams.
Hansbrough, who is averaging 22.0 points and 10.0 rebounds in five career games versus the Hokies, rebounded a Ty Lawson miss and hit a baseline jump shot with 0.8 seconds remaining to win the game - North Carolina’s second straight victory in the series.
While North Carolina is seeking one of the No. 1 seeds in the NCAA tournament, Virginia Tech is looking for at least one more victory to boost its tournament credentials.
The Hokies have lost four of their last five games amidst a difficult schedule.
After defeating then-No. 12 Clemson 80-77 last Wednesday, Virginia Tech lost 72-65 to Duke on Saturday. The Hokies close the regular season Sunday at Florida State, making this the first time in school history they’ll play four straight games against ranked opponents.
Senior A.D. Vassallo had team highs of 26 points and 10 rebounds Saturday and also accounted for all the Virginia Tech points during a 15-4 run that drew the Hokies even with six minutes left.
“We fought back and got back in the game,” Virginia Tech coach Seth Greenberg told the school’s official athletic Web site. “We were in position to win the game. Unfortunately we didn’t make the plays you need to make.”
While Vassallo had a stellar performance against Duke, sophomore guard Malcolm Delaney managed only seven points and shot 2-for-12 from the floor after scoring a total of 51 in his previous two games.
Delaney averaged 17.5 points in two games against North Carolina last season, while Vassallo averaged 12.5 points but shot only 28.1 percent in those contests.