UNC 64, Virginia Tech 61
By Aaron Beard
CHAPEL HILL ó For most of Thursday night, Harrison Barnes played like a tentative and mistake-prone freshman instead of the star who would lead North Carolina back to prominence.
And then, with his team in a fight of a game, Barnes started making the big shots everyone has expected.
Barnes scored eight of his 12 points in the final 31/2 minutes to help the Tar Heels rally from a 16-point deficit to beat Virginia Tech 64-61, moving them to 2-0 in the Atlantic Coast Conference for the first time in three years.
John Henson scored 12 of his 17 points after halftime for the Tar Heels (12-4), who rebounded from a horrendous start and finally slowed Malcolm Delaney and the Hokies enough to get back in the game and earn their 300th victory in the Smith Center after a tense finish.
Delaney finished with 28 points and hit seven 3-pointers for the Hokies (10-5, 1-2), but he missed a 3 over Kendall Marshall with his team trailing by a point in the final seconds. Marshall made two free throws with 2.8 seconds left to push the lead to 64-61, then Dexter Strickland stole Erick Greenís desperation inbound pass to halfcourt as time expired.
It was the biggest comeback for the Tar Heels in a game since the 2008 team rallied from 18 down early in the second half at Boston College. That was also the last time North Carolina started 2-0 in the ACC, with the eventual national championship squad starting 0-2 in the league a year later and last seasonís team finishing 5-11 in the league.
Barnesí emergence late in this one might have been the highlight for the Tar Heels in a matchup of teams picked to finish just behind reigning national champion Duke in the ACC standings.
ěAt the end of the game, itís that time that matters,î Barnes said. ěIt doesnít matter if you were 10-for-10 from the field or 0-for-10. It just matters in that moment. Just make a shot.î
That had been a challenge so far for the 6-foot-8 forward, who was widely regarded as the nationís No. 1 recruit and became the first freshman named to The Associated Press preseason All-America team since voting began before the 1986-87 season.
He was shooting 38 percent from the field and 31 percent from behind the arc, prompting him to joke in December that ěthe rims are still a little tight around here.î He had four points on 2-for-7 shooting through the first 36 minutes to go with five turnovers against the Hokies before he suddenly got rolling.
ěItís funny because in the game, I yelled at him … ëThatís why youíre hereí when he hit those two 3s,î Henson said. ěWhen weíve got to win the game and thereís competition, he scores five straight to get us the win. Thatís something I see every day (in practice), so itís nothing new. But it was big tonight.î
With his team trailing 52-50, Barnes calmly knocked down a jumper over Jeff Allen from one corner, then followed with a 3-pointer from the opposite corner to make it 55-52 with about 3 minutes left.
The Tar Heels went ahead for good when Victor Davila was called for goaltending on Tyler Zellerís shot off an offensive rebound with 2:18 left, then Barnes followed that with another 3 with about 90 seconds left to push that margin to 60-56.
ěBarnes made some big shots,î Virginia Tech coach Seth Greenberg said. ěYouíve got to give the kid credit. … When he had to, he made three really big shots.î
Delaney knocked down his last 3 with 48 seconds left to pull to within 62-61, but the Hokies never could push back ahead. He got a good enough look on his final shot ó a tough stepback 3 over Marshall with about 8 seconds left that had the entire building holding its breath ó but the ball rattled out.
Early on, the Hokies looked like they had this one in hand. They frustrated the Tar Heels with an active zone defense early, while Delaney hit five 3-pointers in the first half ó the last coming with 6:17 left to make it 31-15 ó to match North Carolinaís team scoring total.
North Carolina clawed to within 31-24 at the break, then gradually erased that deficit behind Henson ó who put the Tar Heels ahead 43-42 on a baseline throwdown dunk with 91/2 minutes left to set up a back-and-forth finish.
ěEvery single time you lose, you squander an opportunity,î Greenberg said. ěIt is what it is. We canít get this game back. Weíll learn from it.î
The Associated Press