BLACKSBURG, Va. — For a half Thursday night, Virginia Tech shot its way into a chance at upsetting No. 8 North Carolina. But in what’s fast becoming a trend this season, it was only a matter of time before the Hokies shot themselves out of another potential victory.
After a spirited opening 20 minutes, Virginia Tech saw a halftime lead disintegrate almost immediately amidst a wave of missed shots and it wasn’t long before the Tar Heels were cruising to an 82-68 victory.
Virginia Tech’s fourth straight loss dropped it to 0-4 in ACC play, even though the Hokies played their best game of the conference slate to this point. Point guard Erick Green returned from a knee injury to score a team-high 17 points, and senior Dorenzo Hudson, who came off the bench for the first time all season, scored 16 first-half points.
But it wasn’t nearly enough to overcome a porous shooting performance in the second half. For a fourth consecutive game, Virginia Tech shot less than 40 percent from the floor.
“The big difference was they came out in the second half and punched us in the mouth and we didn’t respond,” Green said.
After entering halftime down by five points following a barrage of Virginia Tech three-pointers, the Tar Heels led by nine points when the first media timeout was called six minutes into the second half. By the time the Hokies ended North Carolina’s 19-0 run on a pair of free throws by freshman Dorian Finney-Smith, the lead had swelled to double digits as Tar Heels forward Harrison Barnes had scored 10 points in less than seven minutes.
Coach Seth Greenberg tried to stymie the surge with two timeouts of his own, but the shots that seemed so easy for the Hokies in the first half weren’t falling. Following a three-pointer by Green that pushed Virginia Tech’s lead to 44-36 a little more than a minute into the half, the Hokies missed their next 14 shots.
Freshman Robert Brown, who got his first career start in place of Hudson, finally hit a three-pointer with 9 minutes 25 seconds left in the game, but at that point the Tar Heels (16-3, 3-1) had taken complete control, extending their run to 26-2.
“It’s like ‘Oh man, here they go,’ ” Green said. “But that’s all you can really say. Once they get hot, once they get going, it’s Carolina.”
Barnes finished with a game-high 27 points, including 21 in the second half, and forward John Henson had 16 points, 16 rebounds and six blocks. Forward Jarell Eddie (15 points) and Brown (12 points) also finished in double figures for the Hokies.
Both teams entered Thursday night’s game in desperation mode. The Hokies were in the midst of their worst start to ACC play since 2005-06 while the Tar Heels were coming off their worst loss since Coach Roy Williams returned to Chapel Hill before the 2003-04 season.
Virginia Tech (11-7) started slowly, missing six of its first seven shots as Henson and center Tyler Zeller scored 10 of North Carolina’s first 15 points.
But then Hudson erupted in a scoring display Hokies fans hadn’t seen from the senior in more than two years. Greenberg brought him off the bench Thursday to “maybe be the Energizer bunny we were kind of missing.”
Hudson responded by scoring every point during an 11-2 Virginia Tech run that gave the Hokies their first lead of the game midway through the first half. Hudson, who hadn’t finished a game shooting more than 50 percent since a Dec. 19 loss to North Florida, entered halftime with 16 points on 5-of-5 shooting, including four three-pointers.
Perhaps more importantly, he ignited Cassell Coliseum’s first sellout crowd of the year and his teammates soon caught fire, as well. After hitting just 12 three-pointers in their three losses to start ACC play, the Hokies made eight of their season-high 13 three-pointers in the opening 20 minutes and took a five-point lead into halftime.
But that success would be short-lived, and Hudson went scoreless during a second half that left the Hokies to ponder once again when their first ACC win will come this season.
“He looked brilliant there for a while,” Greenberg said of Hudson. “Then I think as a group we forced a couple of shots and bad shots against them are like live-ball turnovers. They’re gonna convert those to easy scoring opportunities.”