Virginia Tech men's basketball falls to North Carolina, 64-61, after losing double-digit lead

Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, January 14, 2011; 1:03 AM

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. - At this point, after three consecutive years on the NCAA tournament bubble, the Virginia Tech men's basketball team should be well aware how important quality wins on the road can be come Selection Sunday.

But presented with a golden opportunity to accomplish just that Thursday night at the Dean Smith Center, the Hokies came up just short. Senior Malcolm Delaney missed a potential game-winning three-pointer with less than six seconds remaining and the Hokies fell to North Carolina, 64-61. The loss ended Virginia Tech's six-game winning streak.

"It looked dead on," Delaney said of his near-miss that hit the front of the rim. "I got a little separation like I wanted. I just didn't hit the shot."

This defeat, though, may stick with the Hokies for quite some time. They squandered a 16-point first-half lead and a 28-point performance from Delaney. Virginia Tech has beaten the Tar Heels on the road just once since 1966.

The pivotal play came with the Hokies trailing by one with less than two minutes remaining in the game. Forward Jeff Allen drove hard to the rim and dunked on North Carolina's Tyler Zeller (16 points, nine rebounds). But an official called a charge on Allen to give the ball back to the Tar Heels.

Virginia Tech Coach Seth Greenberg complained about the ruling in his postgame news conference, arguing that Zeller had been inside the imaginary circle underneath the basket that distinguishes a charge from a block in college basketball.

Freshman Harrison Barnes then sank a three-pointer to give North Carolina a four-point lead it did not relinquish. Barnes and Zeller scored 12 of the Tar Heels' final 14 points down the stretch. Forward John Henson added a team-high 17 points, while freshman Kendall Marshall (O'Connell) had nine points and nine assists.

"We had the game in position," Delaney said. "We came out and made the first punch. In the second half, we just didn't put them away."

Virginia Tech's second half was marred by an inability to control the Tar Heels on the glass and some cramping issues that shrank the Hokies' already thin bench even more. North Carolina outrebounded Virginia Tech, 46-33, and scored 19 points off 18 offensive rebounds. Sophomores Manny Atkins (nine points) and Erick Green (10 points) and Allen all spent time on the sideline nursing cramps during the second half.

But the contest couldn't have started out much better for the Hokies (10-5, 1-2 ACC). Virginia Tech jumped out to a 12-2 lead, while Delaney and Green accounted for 18 of the team's first 20 points.

Delaney, in particular, was red-hot before halftime, hitting five three-pointers and scoring 15 points. As a result, Virginia Tech led by as many as 16 points even as Allen, the reigning ACC player of the week after scoring 24 points in a win over Florida State, picked up his second foul less than seven minutes into the game. He did not return until the second half, and finished with just four points and seven rebounds.

But the Tar Heels (12-4, 2-0) closed to within seven at halftime with a 9-0 run of their own. Marshall scored four points during the burst and found Henson for a huge alley-oop that brought the crowd of 21,089 to its feet. The Hokies, meanwhile, finished the half with seven straight missed shots.

That boost was just what the Tar Heels needed. Early in the second half, North Carolina embarked on a 14-3 run that spanned almost eight minutes. Henson gave the Tar Heels their first lead since 2-0, punctuating the momentum change with a thunderous dunk.

The Hokies responded, getting a couple clutch threes from Atkins - one of which gave them a five-point lead with five minutes remaining. But the Tar Heels would not be denied on this night, as Barnes led them on a late 8-0 spurt.

Virginia Tech's depleted roster now has a quick turnaround before the next game, a home matchup with Wake Forest on Saturday. Perhaps the Hokies' biggest challenge, though, will be forgetting the one that got away Thursday night.

"We were in position to have a chance to win the game in a tough environment. Unfortunately, we weren't able to finish it," Greenberg said. "We can't get this game back. We'll learn from it, we'll move on and get ready for Wake Forest. In this league, if you get too caught up in the past, you're sure not gonna be successful in the present."

N. CarolinaVirginia Tech

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