|(2) North Carolina (26-3, 12-3)||42||44||86|
|Virginia Tech (17-12, 7-8)||36||42||78|
BLACKSBURG, Va. – North Carolina used a 10-0 run late in the second half to offset A.D. Vassallo’s big game and knock off Virginia Tech 86-78 in an ACC game played Wednesday night at Cassell Coliseum.
The loss marked Tech’s second straight and its fifth in the past seven games. The Hokies fell to 17-12 overall on the season, 7-8 in the ACC. North Carolina – ranked No. 2 in both polls – won for the 12th time in the past 13 games and moved to 26-3 overall, 12-3 in the ACC.
Vassallo, a senior from Toa Baja, Puerto Rico, was honored along with Cheick Diakite on Senior Night in Blacksburg, and after a slow start, Vassallo didn’t disappoint in his final regular-season appearance at Cassell. He scored a game-high 25 points – 19 in the second half – hitting 11-of-21 from the floor, including 3-of-8 from beyond the 3-point arc.
“I wasn’t thinking about this being the last game. I knew at some point it was going to happen. It just hurt me more knowing that we would have a chance at being in the [NCAA] Tournament with this win,” Vassallo said. “We had the game where we wanted, like we did with Duke. We were tied with a few minutes left.
“It hurt me I couldn’t go out with a win and leave the fans with a good impression. But I think I did all I could and the guys did all they could. Now it’s over and we’ve got to go out and play and get a win on Sunday [against Florida State].”
Tech, playing the third of four straight games against ranked opponents (a first in school history), trailed by as many as nine in the first half, but managed to come back and tie the game on two occasions in the second 20 minutes. The final time came when Vassallo drilled a 3-pointer with 9:22 left in the game to tie the game at 56.
The Tar Heels retook the lead on their next possession when Tyler Hansbrough drained two free throws, and after a Tech turnover, the Tar Heels pushed the lead to 61-56 on a 3-pointer by Danny Green with 8:35 remaining.
The Hokies cut that lead to one point, 63-62, on a Vassallo floater in the lane with 5:15 to go, but the Tar Heels scored the next 10 points in a 10-0 run and never looked back. Hansbrough and Ty Lawson scored four each in that run for the Tar Heels, who ultimately led by as many as 11 down the stretch.
“That shows you why they’re good,” Vassallo said. “They could have folded, and been like ‘Oh man, these guys are playing really hard.’ But they came back and got the run and that shows how good they are.
“We played good, too. Like Duke, we couldn’t get that one stop or that one 50-50 ball that we needed to get over the hump. We’ve somehow got to fix that.”
“I think we did a lot of good things, but I just don’t think we got outside of ourselves,” Tech coach Seth Greenberg said. “To beat the No. 2 team in the country, you have to get outside of yourself. You’ve got to find something in the pit of your stomach that just makes losing not an option. We got close to that point, but we never got to that point.
“Before the game, I talked to the guys about traits you need to possess to win a game – relentless, determined, persistent, tough, smart and poised. At times, we possessed every one of those traits. We just didn’t possess those traits for long enough periods of times and at key times. We just weren’t able to dig down and find something in the pit of our stomach that made losing unacceptable.”
Hansbrough finished with his ninth double-double of the season, scoring 22 points and grabbing 15 rebounds. Lawson also scored 22 points and dished out five assists for the Heels, while Wayne Ellington tallied 15 points.
Tech got 19 points from Malcolm Delaney, who hit just 4-of-16 from the floor, but drained all 10 of his free-throw attempts. Jeff Allen finished with yet another double-double – his eighth of the season and the 18th of his career – scoring 18 points and grabbing 12 rebounds.
The stats were pretty much even across the board except at the free-throw line, where the Tar Heels hit 26-of-34 for the game, while Tech hit all 17 of its attempts. The Hokies, though, were forced to foul in the waning minutes while trying to get back into the game.
Tech closes out the season on Sunday when the Hokies travel to Tallahassee, Fla., for a game against Florida State. Tip off for the game is slated for 2 p.m.
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