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Defensive lineup triggers Tar Heels in win over Virginia Tech

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After wins over depleted conference foes Notre Dame and Miami, Monday night’s game against Virginia Tech looked like it might be a repeat of Carolina’s last conference home game coming off two wins — the embarrassment against Louisville a week ago. Poor perimeter defense allowed Virginia Tech too many open looks from the outside, with the Hokies making six of their first seven three-point attempts and holding a 22-13 lead approaching the midpoint of the first half.

Then Roy Williams made a line change, inserting Brandon Robinson, Seventh Woods, and Nassir Little — a lineup better equipped to defend from the perimeter than score from it. The increased pressure from that group helped cool the Hokies’ shooting touch, and after nearly two weeks of tepid shooting, that energy burst seems to have broken open whatever was holding the Heels’ offense back.

Carolina closed the half on a 20-2 run, hit 14 of their last 18 three-point attempts, and hasn’t looked so dangerous since the win over Gonzaga in December. The lesson: Carolina continues to be the same team that was dominated by Louisville and the one that looked like a title contender against the Zags. The primary difference seems to be defensive energy — and a confident, efficient Coby White, who of course sat out most of the first half against Louisville but did his best Ty Lawson impression (with better outside touch) in this one.

FRESHMEN HITTING THEIR STRIDE

White (more on him below), the Greenfield School graduate, isn’t the only freshman to have had an encouraging week. Little, who had been struggling until finally appearing to recover his confidence against Notre Dame, had his best game as a Tar Heel against the Hokies, adding 23 points in only 20 minutes on 7-of-12 shooting from the field (including 2 for 3 from deep) to his defensive impact. 

All told, White, Little, and Leaky Black scored 53 of Carolina’s 103 points against Virginia Tech. Lest one regard that result as a fluke, perhaps more telling is that the trio has now outscored ACC competition 45-18 in the 20 minutes they’ve spent on the floor together as a unit — a small sample size to be sure, but that figure does seem to match up well with the eye test of late. It’ll be interesting to see how Williams dispenses minutes down the stretch as the freshmen continue to grow.

FOOTBALL LANDS JUCO DEFENSIVE END

Mack Brown and the new football staff have continued to maintain recruiting momentum, earning the commitment of 6’4, 255-pound junior college defensive end Raymond Vohasek, who will have three years of eligibility remaining when he arrives in the fall.

STATS OF THE WEEK

One. That’s how old Coby White was the last time a UNC player led the team in points, rebounds, assists, and steals in the same game before White did it on Monday (27/7/6/4, respectively). The last time a player accomplished this feat: Joseph Forte’s legendary effort (24/16/6/3) in Carolina’s 2001 win at Duke. 

36. That’s how many points better Carolina has been with White on the floor than without him in league play, according to plus/minus stats compiled by InsideCarolina’s Adrian Atkinson. Regardless of how much we see all three freshmen on the floor together down the stretch, it’s pretty clear that White’s time on the bench will continue to decrease as conference play heats up.

Jason Staples has covered college football since 2007. You can follow him on Twitter @DocStaples and check out more of his work at InsideCarolina.com.

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