By HANK KURZ Jr.
AP Sports Writer
BLACKSBURG, Va. (AP) – Kerry Blackshear Jr. called Virginia Tech’s game against No. 10 North Carolina a “really big character test,” coming on the heels of a loss at home against Florida State.
That was a game, Blackshear said, in which the Hokies “really didn’t just come to play.”
They passed this test with flying colors.
Justin Robinson scored 19 points, Ahmed Hill had 18 and the Hokies pulled away in the second half to beat the Tar Heels 80-69 on Monday night.
Blackshear added 16 points for Virginia Tech (14-6, 3-4 Atlantic Coast Conference), which used a 13-3 run after the Tar Heels closed to within three to open a 64-51 advantage with just under eight minutes remaining. UNC never got closer than eight again.
“Today was big for us,” Robinson said. “It was a good response.”
Hill scored the first seven points in the decisive burst and said the Hokies proved they can play defense when they focus on it.
“Once we do what the coaches want and what their plan is, we’re a great team,” he said.
It was that defense, Blackshear said, that sparked the run.
“We just tried to grind it out. We felt like we had some good possessions. Shots weren’t falling, but that’s OK,” he said. “We just tried to base our momentum on stops and we got a few stops that allowed us to get a couple of transition baskets, allowed us to let our offense start flowing and I felt like we did a good job of just building on both ends of the floor.”
Joel Berry and Luke Maye scored 23 points each for the Tar Heels (16-5, 5-3). North Carolina turned the ball over 13 times to Virginia Tech’s nine, and Virginia Tech outscored them 11-2 off those mistakes.
“We have some issues and that’s my responsibility,” coach Roy Williams said. “I used to say I shouldn’t have to coach effort and intensity but I’m trying to coach that and not doing a very good job at it. It’s frustrating.”
The Hokies ended the first half on a 15-2 run to lead 39-32 at the break. Back-to-back 3-pointers by Berry sparked the Tar Heels early in the second half, and they closed to 51-48 with 12:11 to play. Hill’s 3-pointer – one of 12 for the Hokies – then started his personal 7-0 run.
As the final horn sounded, fans that had been chanting “just like football” streamed onto the court.
North Carolina: The Tar Heels like to play at a fast pace, but were not as adept at getting back on defense against the Hokies, who scored numerous baskets before 10 seconds had come off the shot clock.
Virginia Tech: The Hokies are second nationally in field goal percentage at .521, and while they came up short of that against the Tar Heels (30 of 63, 47.6 percent), they outscored North Carolina 32-26 in the paint and outrebounded them 36-35. The Hokies finished with five players with at least five rebounds and had seven different players make at least one 3-pointer.
The Tar Heels return home to face North Carolina State on Saturday.
Virginia Tech travels to South Bend, Indiana to face Notre Dame on Saturday.
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