Despite it being one of the coldest days of 2019 outside, North Carolina heated up just enough inside the Dean Dome to out shoot No. 10 Virginia Tech.
The Heels, despite a cold start that matched the 27 degree temperature outside, got it going in enough spurts to defeat the Hokies, 103-82. No. 11 UNC knocked down 16 three-pointers and shot 53 percent from the field, led by freshman point guard Coby White. The 16 three-pointers equal the second most in school history and the second most in the Smith Center.
“We started out 1-12 and I was so mad at what we were doing,” UNC head coach Roy Williams said. “I said all year I think we are good shooters. We make 14 of our next 19. Our defense got better when we started putting the ball in the basket.”
White, the all-time leading scorer in North Carolina High School history, caught fire late in the first half and led the Tar Heels (15-4, 5-1) with 27 points. It was the third 20-point game in his short career and the third straight game in double figures for White, who has 13 games in double-digits this season. The 6-5 guard also led the team in rebounds (7), assists (6) and steals (4), the first time that’s been done by a UNC player since Joseph Forte against Duke in 2001.
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White got a huge hand from Nassir Little, who scored a career-high 23 points, also his third consecutive game in double-digits. It was the first time this season that White and Little each scored at least 20 points in a game. Little’s first basket of the night was a strong move to the basket in which he was fouled, that led to a three-point play. His next basket was a breakaway slam dunk and by that point the No. 11 Tar Heels had battled back from an early deficit and never looked back once they took the lead for good.
“I don’t want to get too high, don’t want to get too low,” Little said. “Each game I’m just trying to get better, that’s it. At the end of the day I’m trying to improve each and everyday and help this team win.”
Once Virginia Tech (15-3, 4-2) cooled down, the Tar Heels took full advantage, going up 14 at the break after White and his teammates caught fire.
The freshman from Goldsboro scored 11 of first 13 first-half points in the final five minutes. First he drove to the basket for an acrobatic layup to pull UNC within two before he really got it going. White hit back-to-back 3s, his second giving the Tar Heels their first lead.
It would be the UNC freshman who lead the final run before the half, as Leaky Black knocked down a three of his own, followed by a pair of free throws from Nassir Little. White hit another three to put UNC ahead 10, 39-29. In a quick span the three freshman accounted for 18 points after UNC fell behind. Williams said they are past the point of being considered newcomers.
“It’s 19 games, that’s a few opportunities to go out and play,” Williams said about his rookie trio. “You shouldn’t still be a freshman.”
While White wasn’t so quick to agree with his coach, saying he still makes some rookie mistakes, he does feel like things are slowing down for him.
“I still feel like a freshman, I have a lot to learn,” White said. “But I feel like I’m doing better, I’m getting more comfortable.”
Black added, “I think us freshmen stepped up big, the team needed it. So it was fun to see us all out there contributing.”
The Tar Heels led 45-31 at the break after trailing by as many as nine to the Hokies, the top three-point shooting team in the conference.
The Hokies came out the gates on fire, hitting six of their first seven shots from three, going up 22-13.
North Carolina started 1-for-7 from three, but slowly crawled back in the game once the shots started falling. The Tar Heels went on a 20-0 run, sparked by the steal and a dunk from Little.
At one point Carolina couldn’t buy a basket from three, but hit three in a row before halftime and finished the first half with seven triples. UNC’s previous high three-pointers in a game was 13 in a win over Gonzaga. Carolina started 1-for-8 from three, but hit 15 of their final 22, finishing the game shooting 47.1 percent from three.
Virginia Tech, playing the Tar Heels for the first time as a top 10 team, became the fourth consecutive ACC home win for North Carolina over an opponent ranked higher than the Tar Heels. With the win Roy Williams improves to 15-4 against the Hokies. This was the most points scored against Virginia Tech this season. The previous high was 83 in a win over Purdue. Ahmed Hill led the Hokies with 20.
North Carolina finished with five players in double-figures. White and Little were joined by Luke Maye (14), Garrison Brooks (12) and Kenny Williams (10).
“I like five guys in double-figures,” Williams said. “I like 25 assists on 36 made baskets.”
The Tar Heels are back in action on Jan. 29 when they travel to Atlanta to take on Georgia Tech.