Wednesday, February 14, 2007

UNC-Virginia Tech notebook

CHAPEL HILL - The difficult thing about Tuesday night’s loss for North Carolina’s players is that they couldn’t blame it on overlooking Virginia Tech, which won 81-80 in overtime at the Smith Center.
Exactly one month earlier, Virginia Tech had defeated the Tar Heels 94-88 in Blacksburg, Va. So the fourth-ranked Tar Heels were motivated, rather than casual toward the opponent.
And they still lost.
"It was a home game, it was against a team that beat us at their place, and it just felt like before the game that this would be our chance to come back out here and prove that we could be a better team," said North Carolina center Tyler Hansbrough.
Judging by talent alone, the Tar Heels should be better than Virginia Tech. North Carolina has six McDonald’s All-Americans on its roster.
The Hokies have none.
But as North Carolina is finding out, experience can trump talent in college basketball.
Virginia Tech guards Zabian Dowdell and Jamon Gordon are seniors who have played in dozens of close games in their careers and have led the Hokies to a 3-0 record in overtime games this season.
The Tar Heels start freshmen Ty Lawson and Wayne Ellington at guard. Tuesday was the first opportunity either of them had to decide a close game in the closing seconds of regulation or overtime in college basketball. And they couldn’t get the Tar Heels a win.
"When we ran the play at the end (of regulation), we tried to come off a screen, but we weren’t in the right positions, so if we had a little more experience, everyone would have been set and ready to go to run the play," Lawson said.
Coach Roy Williams would prefer that North Carolina not attempt so many perimeter shots. The Tar Heels were 3-for-17 from 3-point range, including 0-for-10 combined in the second half and overtime.
It appears the Tar Heels are having difficulty deciding when to be persistent at trying to get the ball inside to Hansbrough and Brandan Wright and when to take open jump shots.
Dowdell, who scored 33 points, might have summed it up best.
"You wouldn’t know they were freshmen if you didn’t look at the roster," Dowdell said. "I think their inexperience kind of kicks in at times, but man, they are a really good group of young guys."
SPECIAL MOMENT FOR COLLINS: Williams paused for a moment as he talked about congratulating Virginia Tech center Coleman Collins after the game.
One year earlier, Collins’ father, Jackson Collins Sr., died of cancer.
"I told him congratulations and I was awful sorry, that team went through a lot last year," Williams said, his eyes red with emotion.
Collins said he was happy his brother, Jackson Jr., was able to attend the game.
"It was a big day, especially, it was the first time we’ve ever made the trip down here," Collins said. "There’s a lot of history here, and we wanted to come out of here with a good win."
TIP-INS: Virginia Tech coach Seth Greenberg said Lawson and former Wake Forest guard Chris Paul are the two toughest players the Hokies have had to guard in the open court. ... Dowdell was 17-for-19 from the foul line Tuesday and 28-for-34 in the two wins against the Tar Heels. His 33 points were a season high for a North Carolina opponent. ... North Carolina has lost six consecutive overtime games. Its last overtime win was on March 1, 2000 against Georgia Tech.