BLACKSBURG, Va. (AP)—First Duke, now North Carolina.
Virginia Tech beat them both in eight days, riding the play of senior guards Zabian Dowdell and Jamon Gordon and an unheralded cast of role players.
Dowdell scored 23 points and had four steals, Gordon added 17 points, six rebounds, six assists and five steals and the ball-hawking Hokies likely ended North Carolina’s stay at No. 1 after only a week with a stunning 94-88 victory Saturday.
It ended with some tension—the Tar Heels cut a 22-point deficit to 91-88 with 16.9 seconds left—but then Dowdell made one free throw, Gordon made two more and the final seconds ticked off, bringing hundreds of frenzied fans rushing onto the court.
“They scared us at the end,” Gordon said. “They were hitting shots like the Phoenix Suns. They’re No. 1 for a reason, but tonight, it was our night.”
The Hokies (13-4, 3-0 Atlantic Coast Conference) joined Boston College (12-4, 4-0), which won earlier, as the only teams still unbeaten in ACC play.
And they did it not only because of their guard play, but also because of Coleman Collins, who had 12 points and frustrated Tyler Hansbrough inside; because of A.D. Vassallo, who scored 17 off the bench; and because of Nigel Munson, who scored 10.
There were also key moments for Deron Washington, Cheick Diakite and Lewis Witcher, who all got in foul trouble but combined for 12 points and helped the Hokies slow down the Tar Heels inside game, and former walk-on Chris Tucker, who hit a 3-pointer.
“That’s kind of the pleasure of coaching,” Hokies coach Seth Greenberg said of seeing guys who work hard and don’t always get to play get in and make contributions.
“It was great,” Vassallo said, “guys coming in and giving us a big lift.”
Turned out, they needed it all as the Tar Heels went from trailing by 20 with six minutes left to getting within three and silencing the crowd with 16.9 seconds to go.
But then Dowdell hit one of two free throws, Gordon got fouled at the other end and hit two more and the Hokies had their second-ever victory against a team ranked No. 1.
“They’ve had two pretty big wins the last two Saturdays, to say the least,” Tar Heels coach Roy Williams said. “It’s a different ballgame now in this league.”
The Hokies, who came in leading the ACC by a wide margin in averaging 9.5 fewer turnovers than their opponents, turned 17 turnovers into 20 points against the Heels.
“In the ACC, it doesn’t matter who it is or where it is, you always have to play hard,” said Hansbrough, who finished with 19 hard-earned points and 15 rebounds.
“I think at times we had some let-downs that hurt us.”
North Carolina (15-2, 2-1) got to see what Duke learned a week ago when the Hokies won 69-67 in overtime at Cameron Indoor Stadium—these Hokies will take the ball away from you, not make many mistakes and force teams to play smart or risk disappointment.
And this time, they did it with a crowd on their side and in near hysteria.
“If you don’t get jacked up for Carolina and Duke, you need to quit and go be a ballerina or something,” Gordon said. “We came out hard. No reason to be scared.”
Not even an early 17-9 lead for the Tar Heels was cause for concern.
Greenberg called a time out even though the next dead ball would have brought an officials’ time out, and whatever he said in the huddle registered, and fast.
Beginning with two free throws by Coleman Collins, the Hokies went on a 21-4 run over the next 8:15, holding the Tar Heels without a point for 5 1/2 minutes as the crowd at Cassell Coliseum showed its delirium with ear-piercing screaming and whistling.
Leading 30-21, the Hokies saw North Carolina close to within four, but then the Hokies scored seven straight late in the half and led 47-37 at halftime.
The stage was set for the deeper Tar Heels to assert themselves after halftime, but as if to show they weren’t in over their heads, the Hokies scored 19 of the first 26 points after halftime, opening a 66-44 lead with 12 minutes left, and then hung on.
“We don’t want anything but tears of joy in this locker room,” Collins said.
Williams, who started with freshmen Wayne Ellington and Ty Lawson it the backcourt, said it might be true that that Hokies guard tandem simply showed its experience advantage in the game, but added: “that would be simplifying it too much.”
Instead, he hopes his guys learned something with more conference play ahead.
“I hope it was a big eye-opener,” he said. “We’ll find out.”
The Tar Heels’ next game is at Clemson, which suffered it’s first lost Saturday.