Saturday, March 15, 2008


Like heavyweight brawlers, #1 North Carolina and upset minded Virginia Tech pounded each other for 14 ugly rounds. Just prior to the 15th round, they both remembered how to box.

And what a final round it was.

With 2:45 left in the game, Wayne Ellington missed a free throw. The ball took a funny bounce that allowed Hansbrough to grab it and make the follow-up to tie the game at 61. Tech’s sharp shooting freshman Malcolm Delaney drained a three pointer from 25 feet. Carolina ran down the court, and Ellington matched Delaney’s trey.

Game on.

They traded free throws before Carolina converted on Hansbrough’s jumper with .08 left on the clock for the 68-66 win.

Hansbrough has to be one of the few All-American caliber players to actually cultivate a new shot during the season. Hansbrough has been shooting more and more intermediate jumpers when opponents shut him down inside. That new shot paid big dividends.

The Hokies did almost everything they needed to do to defeat the Tar Heels, but they made one critical mistake. They let UNC hang around. When good teams hang around they frequently end up on top. Virginia Tech went cold (tired?) at the worst possible time, and as poorly as Carolina was playing and shooting, the Tar Heels snuck back in the game.

The Hokies led from 22-21 until 1:28 was left in the game, but they could never get more than three possessions in front.

When Ellington made two free throws to give the Heels their first second-half lead at 66-64, the Hokies never led again.

Both teams had issues. Danny Green was having a miserable day until he tapped the ball to Hansbrough on the winning play. Wayne Ellington left his body and the building for most of the game, and Ty Lawson is simply still not himself.

The Hokies’ Deron Washington continues to be Mr. Highlight/Lowlight with a spectacular dunk on an inbounds pass and a dumb foul on Ellington who was shooting a late off-balance three-pointer. A.D. Vassallo was rock solid all day, and watch out for the Hokies next year as four freshmen played major roles in a tough to swallow loss.

Hansbrough finished with 26 points and nine rebounds for the top-seeded Tar Heels (31-2).

Vassallo scored 17 points to lead the fourth-seeded Hokies (19-13), who couldn't get off a shot on their final possession

North Carolina's Tyler Hansbrough, right, shoots the game-winning basket as Virginia Tech's Hank Thorns, left, defends during North Carolina's 68-66 win in the Atlantic Coast Conference basketball tournament at Bobcats Arena in Charlotte, N.C., Saturday, March 15, 2008. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)

Tyler Hansbrough #50 of the North Carolina Tar Heels and Jeff Allen #0 of the Virginia Tech Hokies battle for a rebound. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

Hansbrough #50 reacts after making the game-winning shot with .8 seconds left as Hank Thorns #10 of the Virginia Tech Hokies is clearly bummed. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

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