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January 10, 2010CHAPEL HILL - North Carolina's players were hoping for a fresh start with the beginning of ACC play after losing four non-conference games.
After an initial 20 minutes that looked frustratingly familiar at times, the No. 9 Tar Heels finally found some success on offense and kicked off their conference slate with a 78-64 win against Virginia Tech.
"We definitely wanted to come into this game with a fresh mindset," said Marcus Ginyard, who came off the bench after missing the past three games. "This can be thought of as almost a completely different season. This game is going to be huge for us."
Carolina (12-4, 1-0 in the ACC) shot 65 percent in the second half and hit a flurry of shots from 3-point range in the final minutes to pull away from the Hokies (12-2, 0-1), who had won nine straight games.
Ed Davis had 20 points and 11 rebounds to lead the Tar Heels, who have won nine of their last 11 ACC openers, and point guard Larry Drew II played aggressively in notching seven second-half assists against a single turnover.
"He looked like a totally different player in the second half," Deon Thompson said.
Drew was also part of the resurgent outside shooting in the final minutes for Carolina, which missed its first nine 3-point attempts of the game but hit its final five.
The Tar Heels had hit just one 3-pointer in 77 minutes of combined play against College of Charleston and Virginia Tech before finally getting hot down the stretch against the Hokies.
First it was Will Graves, who knocked in UNC's first three of the game with just under eight minutes remaining to give his team a 60-52 lead.
Graves, whose 13 points were the most he has ever scored in an ACC game, struck again with 6:26 to go, and Drew followed with another three that put Carolina up 66-55 with 5:40 remaining.
Then it was back to Graves, who added another to make it 69-55 with four minutes to go. Drew even got a shot-clock-beating desperation three to go in with two minutes to go.
"You get your confidence going, you get your blood going," Graves said. "You say to yourself, 'I've been doing all this on defense, time to do something on the other (end).'"
Carolina, which had twice as many turnovers (12) as assists (six) in the first half, trailed 38-34 at the break.
Tech guard Malcolm Delaney, who was questionable for this game with an ankle injury, scored 20 of his 26 points in the opening period to carry the Hokies.
But the Tar Heels managed to almost completely shut down Delaney in the second half.
The junior guard didn't get into the scoring log in the second half until a ball tipped in by Carolina was credited to him with 8:28 to go and was virtually a non-factor in the final 20 minutes thanks to the Tar Heels rotating a series of defenders in and out against him.
"We had fresh defenders on him, and I think the ankle started to bother him more in the second half than it did in the first half," UNC coach Roy Williams said.
Most importantly, Carolina got the new beginning it was looking for, and erased the painful memory of its overtime loss at College of Charleston.
In the days between that loss and this win, Drew said he didn't want to be seen in public and stayed hidden under a hoodie when he walked around campus.
While the win wasn't perfect by any means, Carolina's point guard feels like he can show his face again.
"We knew this game was the start of a second season," Drew said. "We wanted to give it our all, and we did."