BLACKSBURG, Va. -- Justyn Mutts scored 27 points to lead Virginia Tech to an 80-72 victory over No. 18 North Carolina on Sunday.
Mutts scored 21 of his points in the second half for the Hokies (8-1, 1-0 Atlantic Coast Conference), who built an 18-point, second-half lead and then held on to hand the slumping Tar Heels (5-4, 0-1) their fourth consecutive defeat.
North Carolina cut that lead to 67-64 on a layup by Caleb Love with 3:06 remaining, but Mutts answered with a basket 17 seconds later, and the Tar Heels got no closer.
“When it did get to three, we sat down and did the things that we’re supposed to do,” Virginia Tech coach Mike Young said. “(There was) a level of toughness and a level of resolve when the heat’s on a little bit, and they withstood it. They did a nice job with it.
“We needed today. We needed the Tar Heels, someone of that ilk to play. That heightened sense of awareness and embracing the grit and the grind that goes along with winning games of this nature. It was a good day for the Hokies.”
The Associated Press’ preseason No. 1 team, North Carolina played without center Armando Bacot, who missed the game with a bruised shoulder. The ACC’s preseason player of the year had started 107 of 108 games in his career and was averaging 16.1 points and a team-best 11.1 rebounds.
Virginia Tech, and in particular, Mutts, took advantage of Bacot’s absence. Mutts connected on 12 of 16 from the floor, and he also grabbed 11 rebounds. Behind Mutts, the Hokies shot 50.8% (31of 61) from the floor.
“It’s just my teammates and my coaches putting so much trust in me, just so much faith in me,” Mutts said. “A lot of it is the play calls that are going on, and then within different flows of the game … just with the way our offense runs, there are certain openings that I was able to take that really benefitted me.”
Caleb Love, Pete Nance, and RJ Davis each scored 18 for North Carolina.
“I told the guys that I’m disappointed, but I’m not discouraged,” North Carolina coach Hubert Davis said. “Disappointed with the outcome, but I was really happy with the fight the last 15 minutes of the second half. … I told them also that I’m not panicked. I’m not any of that. This is a good basketball team, and I’m convinced that we’re going to be a great basketball team by the end of the season.”
North Carolina: The Tar Heels have shown a lack of toughness inside of late. Indiana and Alabama scored 50 and 40 points in the paint, respectively, and then North Carolina allowed 42 points in the paint to the Hokies.
Virginia Tech: The defending ACC champions played their best game of the season and appear to be meshing as a team. They now have won three straight following a loss to the College of Charleston on Nov. 20.
Though all four losses in during this skid have been either at neutral sites or on the road, North Carolina probably will drop out of the top 25 when the updated poll is released Monday.
North Carolina: The Tar Heels play at home Saturday against Georgia Tech.
Virginia Tech: The Hokies play at home against Dayton on Wednesday.
AP college basketball: https://apnews.com/hub/college-basketball and https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-college-basketball-poll and https://twitter.com/AP—Top25