GREENSBORO, N.C. — North Carolina coach Roy Williams wants his team to relentlessly attack the boards in a withering style that wears down opponents, draws fouls and leads to easy buckets.
Once they did that Thursday, the Tar Heels wrestled control of a physical game away from No. 22 Virginia Tech in the Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament.
Armando Bacot had 17 points and 13 rebounds to help UNC beat the Hokies 81-73 in the quarterfinals, a win that came only after a second-half surge built on the Tar Heels finally getting to the glass.
“What I hope (is) that we’re just going to keep coming, and keep coming, and keep coming, and keep coming,” Williams said.
It wasn’t until Bacot led that effort that the sixth-seeded Tar Heels (18-9) earned a semifinal matchup with No. 15 Florida State. He scored 13 of his points after halftime, including a run of 10 in a row as UNC used a 11-2 run to break a 49-all tie. Bacot’s flurry included three second-chance baskets, the last a putback of a missed Caleb Love drive for a 68-58 lead near the 5-minute mark.
A night earlier, the Tar Heels had 25 offensive rebounds and 27 second-chance points in a rout of Notre Dame. This time, UNC didn’t do its best work until after halftime, pulling down 13 offensive boards and scoring 15 second-chance points.
“I think they got bigger, if that’s possible, at the half,” Virginia Tech coach Mike Young said.
Bacot finished with nine second-half rebounds, part of the Tar Heels’ 27-17 rebounding edge in the final 20 minutes.
“He knows how to get under my skin,” Bacot said of Williams’ halftime push for more effort, adding: “He just uses the word soft a lot, and I don’t like when he’s saying it.”
Justyn Mutts scored a season-high 24 points on 10-for-16 shooting for the third-seeded Hokies (15-6), who were playing their first game since Feb. 27 after having their last two regular-season games canceled due to contact tracing.
Tyrece Radford added 20 for Virginia Tech, which shot 47% and made 8 of 18 3-pointers. But the Hokies went from allowing just two offensive rebounds and two second-chance points in the first half to letting Bacot and Day”Ron Sharpe get loose on the glass as the game wore on.
“You combine some conditioning issues and then you’re banging with – it’s like they’ve got seven people,” Young said. “That’s hard. My guys did everything they could. We just didn’t have quite enough to win it.”
UNC: The Tar Heels entered after lopsided wins against rival Duke and Notre Dame, with Wednesday’s 42-point margin against the Fighting Irish the program’s biggest in any ACC Tournament game. Things were tougher in this one. It helped that freshman guard RJ Davis had 14 of his season-high 19 points after halftime – including three of his four 3-pointers – to complement the Tar Heels’ work inside.
Virginia Tech: The Hokies had played just twice in five weeks but were effective offensively and in keeping the Tar Heels off the glass for a half. The Hokies were trying to reach the semifinals for the first time since 2011 and fourth time overall.
“We’re not going to blame the loss on the pause or anything,” guard Wabissa Bede said. “That was just us. We were very capable of winning that game regardless. Next time we will.”
MOVING PAST KNIGHT
It marked Williams’ 903rd career victory, breaking a tie with Bob Knight for third on the Division I men’s list to trail only Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski and Syracuse’s Jim Boeheim.
Former Connecticut coach Jim Calhoun, now at Division III St. Joseph’s, has won 873 as a Division I coach and 917 overall.
Leaky Black scored all eight of his points after halftime for UNC, including two 3s. … Nahiem Alleyne had all 12 of his points after halftime for Virginia Tech, all on 3s. … Hokies leading scorer Keve Aluma (15.9 points) finished with nine on 4-for-13 shooting. … UNC senior Garrison Brooks had five points after missing the Notre Dame win with an ankle injury. Williams said Brooks is “still a little hampered.”
UNC: The Tar Heels face second-seeded Florida State in Friday’s semifinals. The Seminoles advanced when their quarterfinal matchup with Duke was canceled after the Blue Devils withdrew due to a positive COVID-19 test within their program.
Virginia Tech: The Hokies will wait to learn their NCAA Tournament seeding.