CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – The No. 9 North Carolina Tar Heels remained atop the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) standings following a 91-72 beatdown of the Virginia Tech Hokies Thursday night at the Dean Smith Center.
The Tar Heels (19-3, 7-1) entered the game as the nation’s best rebounding team (45.9 rebounds/game), while Virginia Tech was ranked 223rd in the country (35.4 rebounds/game) in the same category.
It certainly showed, as Carolina put together a complete performance in all but one category which left head coach Roy Williams imploring more from his team.
“I thought we played pretty well,” Justin Jackson said.
“Defensively, we gotta get a few more stops. But I think overall we had some good intensity. If we can get some more stops and have those translate, I think we’re right where we want to be.”
Despite shooting 10 percent better than the Heels in the first half, the Hokies found themselves down 44-33 at the break because of the difference on the glass.
Carolina finished the first with a 16 to 1 advantage on the offensive boards and a 26 to 10 rebounding edge overall.
UNC senior forward Kennedy Meeks came into the game ranked fourth nationally in offensive rebound percentage (17.2 percent) and 15th in total rebound percentage (21 percent).
He continued that dominance with 14 rebounds (seven offensive), and contributed 15 points.
That ability to crash the glass led to Carolina shooting 18 more shots than Virginia Tech in the opening half.
While the Hokies were able to limit Carolina’s offensive rebounds to just three in the second half, the Heels still dominated the boards overall to help extend the lead.
UNC finished the game outrebounding Virginia Tech 43-22 which led to 20 second chance points.
“I think it is definitely effort,” Meeks said.
“When you come out and your teammate misses a shot and you fight around and box out to try and get the ball, the ball is going to come to you sooner or later. It just so happened that it came to us a lot tonight.”
The Heels shot 47 percent from behind the arc as a team.
Jackson led the way with 26 points, going 5-for-12 from distance, while junior guard Joel Berry II went 5-for-10 from deep en route to 15 points.
Despite what was a well-rounded offensive performance, Williams was less than pleased with his team on the defensive end.
“I think to go from good to great, our defensive field goal percentage has to improve,” Williams said.
“I think the other things will keep you in the game, but if you really want to be great, you have to guard people better. I think last year we led the league in defensive field goal percentage in conference games, and we also won the league. I think both of those go hand in hand.”
With the prolific offense Carolina already has, if it can improve its defense the Heels will be a team nobody wants to play come tournament time.
“I think over the last couple of games teams have been shooting over 40% and that is something that we don’t want to happen,” Berry II admitted.
“If we can start getting the field goal percentage down and guard guys like we want to guard, I think that will make him [Coach Williams] happy.”
Senior guard Seth Allen led the Hokies offensively with 19 points on 7-for-12 shooting, and five assists.
Sophomore guard Justin Robinson added 17 points and seven assists.
Editor’s Note: It was subsequently announced on Friday that North Carolina junior guard/forward Theo Pinson would not play at Miami on Saturday. He rolled his right ankle after landing awkwardly while retrieving a rebound in the win over Virginia Tech. While doctors would continue to evaluate Pinson’s injury, there was no timetable for his return. Pinson is averaging 6.2 points, 5.2 rebounds and 3.3 assists in six games this season. He did not play in UNC’s first 16 games after suffering a broken bone in his right foot in October. He had surgery on October 26th and returned to practice just after Christmas.