North Carolina didn’t finish its non-conference schedule as it would have liked, blowing a late lead to lose to a lesser opponent. It’s not going to get any easier for the defending national champions with league play set to begin.
In the ACC opener for each team, the ninth-ranked Tar Heels try to bounce back from a disappointing loss and take the first step toward repeating as conference champs Sunday against a Virginia Tech team trying to win 10 consecutive games for the first time in nearly 50 years.
North Carolina (11-4) is a co-favorite with rival Duke to win the ACC and is picked by many to be a Final Four contender again, but it certainly didn’t look like a team with championship aspirations in Monday’s 82-79 overtime loss to the College of Charleston.
The Tar Heels were in good position to win their fourth in a row, leading 72-61 with four minutes left, but the Cougars scored 11 of the final 12 points in regulation to send the game to overtime. North Carolina never had a lead in the extra period.
“It doesn’t feel good for us right now,” coach Roy Williams said. “But we’ve got to bounce back and be smarter and more effective.”
The Heels also need to get their high-powered offense back on track.
North Carolina’s starting backcourt of Larry Drew and Dexter Strickland were a combined 5 of 21 for 17 points Monday, as the team shot a season-low 38.0 percent. The Heels, sixth in Division I in scoring with 85.3 points per game, were held to fewer than 80 points for just the second time in 10 games.
“I think our confidence is still high. You win games, you lose games,” said senior forward Deon Thompson, who averages a team-best 15.9 points. “I don’t think our confidence and our abilities as basketball players is down. We still know that we have all the pieces to be a great team.”
This offense will be tested by a Virginia Tech squad that is finding success behind a defense that allows an average of 59.9 points and 38.3 percent shooting.
The Hokies (12-1), picked to finish eighth in the ACC, are off to their best start since the 1982-83 team opened 14-1 and have won nine consecutive games for the first time since the 1995-96 season. They haven’t won 10 consecutive games since 1961-62.
Extending that streak against North Carolina won’t be easy. The Heels, who won both meetings last season, have won four straight over the Hokies and 22 of the last 24.
North Carolina won’t be at full strength for this game, though.
Senior Marcus Ginyard, who averages 11.0 points, will miss his fourth straight game with a sprained right ankle, while junior Will Graves and freshman Leslie McDonald are questionable with right ankle sprains. The injuries deplete a thin perimeter for the Heels.
The Hokies are also a bit banged-up, as Malcolm Delaney - who is second in the ACC in scoring with 19.8 points per game - is listed as questionable with a sprained left ankle. Delaney, who averaged 18.0 points and 7.5 assists in the two games against North Carolina last season, was injured one minute into Virginia Tech’s 85-50 win over Longwood on Dec. 30 and sat out last Saturday’s 103-94 overtime win over Seton Hall in Cancun.
Delaney’s offense wasn’t missed much against the Pirates.
Dorenzo Hudson scored a career-best 41 points last Saturday, the most points by a Virginia Tech player since Bimbo Coles had 42 in 1990.
Hudson, whose previous best was 24 points, was 9 for 23 from the floor but made 20 of 21 free throws. Before that performance, the junior guard had not attempted more than six free throws in a game all season.