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Thursday, March 5, 2009

Heels survive test in Blacksburg

Posted by on Thu, Mar 5, 2009 at 8:49 PM

TV/ESPN -- You might excuse Carolina fans if they lost the faith for a second or two on Wednesday night. The Tar Heels, attempting to fend off a desperate Virginia Tech team they couldn't quite put away, suffered through a very anxious stretch but held on for a 86-78 win on the road that clenched at least a share of the ACC regular season title.

The suspense of the game was typical for a conference road contest, but the way in which the Heels won was a very positive development. To wit, instead of outscoring an opponent, Carolina actually made several key defensive stops and beat a quality team on its home floor despite shooting just 41 percent from the field.

While obviously the Heels can't win a national title unless they shoot more accurately, occasions inevitably will arise when they are struggling to score and will need to lean on their defense in order to ride out the storm. Those offensive slumps have produced losses on three other occasions this season, so this was a step in the right direction — and at the right time of year.

Don't look now, but Tyler Hansbrough is starting to rev up for the post-season. UNC's star big man added 22 points and 15 rebounds to his career totals, edging him closer to J.J. Redick's ACC scoring record. Meanwhile, another All-ACC candidate, Ty Lawson, scored 22 points of his own and added five assists with only one turnover.

If there was a downside to the game, it was that Carolina again allowed an opposing perimeter player to go wild. Tech's A.D. Vassallo, playing in his final game on his home floor, scored 25 points and hit several long jumpers in the second half against a temporarily bewildered UNC defense.

Again, if Carolina fans flashed back to Maryland's Greivis Vasquez lighting them up a couple weeks ago in Carolina's collapse at College Park, who could blame them?

Question is, to what extent can the Heels put their defensive troubles behind them?

No one knows the answer to that question now, and most will put the longer term issues on hold in preparation for Sunday's rematch against Duke. In addition to the significance of it being a Duke game, the Heels will send off Hansbrough, Danny Green, Bobby Frasor and likely Ty Lawson and Wayne Ellington as well.

Carolina will capture the ACC crown outright with a win, and a loss would result in a tie with the Blue Devils and leave conference tournament seeding to a tiebreaker.

To see the UNC/VT box score, click here.

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