BLACKSBURG — The Virginia Tech hero hadn’t scored a point all night. The Hokies went the entire second half and first overtime period without leading. North Carolina had two chances to win with buzzer-beating shots.
None of it mattered. In this crazy season in which the Tar Heels are reeling and the Hokies are better than anybody expected, Tech got it done.
Tyrece Radford scored on a tough shot in the lane with less than a second remaining in the second overtime period, and the Hokies escaped with a 79-77 victory on Wednesday night.
The Tar Heels have lost six straight ACC games for the first time in their history, but a win over UNC will always be a reason to celebrate. Frank Beamer and Bud Foster were among the partisans wedged into Cassell Coliseum, where the energy took a while to percolate but helped make a difference the later the night got.
UNC had control for most of this game. In the first half, the Tar Heels were making shots they hadn’t been making and building leads they hadn’t been building. Tech trailed by a dozen points approaching the midway point of the second half. The crowd was quiet.
And then bacon intervened.
Yes, bacon. That glorious Smithfield promotion where an opponent misses two free throws in succession, awarding the fans complimentary swine, came at the perfect time.
Tech trailed by nine points with 11:18 remaining in regulation when UNC’s Justin Pierce stepped to the line and obliged, raising the decibels here to the highest they’d been all game.
Wabissa Bede followed with a layup. Nahiem Alleyne then hit a 3. Suddenly, the UNC lead was just three, and you could envision an ending like the one that transpired.
Radford will get the lion’s share of the love for ultimately ending this game, but Landers Nolley II deserves at least as much credit for making it possible. Nolley didn’t shoot well in this one — 5 for 17 overall, 2 for 8 from 3-point range — but he made his free throws (10 of 11) and executed two of the most important plays of the second overtime.
With Tech trailing by a point with 1:12 remaining, Nolley missed an off-balance attempt late in the shot clock. He followed his miss, though, and tipped the ball to himself to allow the Hokies to rerack.
Alleyne promptly hit a 3-pointer to give the Hokies just their second lead since the first half.
After UNC re-tied the game with a Garrison Brooks layup, Nolley went to work again. He drove the baseline and hit a reverse layup with 23 seconds remaining, then flexed his right biceps as he ran back down to the defensive end.
Remember, it was Nolley who missed the final shot in Saturday’s 71-69 home loss to Syracuse. Nolley was torn up about it, too, calling himself selfish for taking a low-percentage shot and trying too hard to be the hero.
Given that, it was immensely positive for Tech to see Nolley refuse to shrink from the opportunities to make plays in the biggest moments of this game.
The redshirt freshman has been the team’s best player since his exhilarating 30-point collegiate debut against Clemson. He entered the game as the third-leading scorer in the conference. For him to shake off his frustration of Syracuse showed maturity and confidence, something the Hokies will need plenty of from him the rest of the season.
Yes, the Tar Heels are a mess right now. But they’ll be back — probably sometime soon. You take the victories against UNC whenever, and however, you can get them.