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January 13, 2007

Virginia Tech upsets top-ranked UNC

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BLACKSBURG, Va. -Zabian Dowdell, Jamon Gordon and ball-hawking Virginia Tech didn't allow North Carolina to enjoy its stay at No. 1 for very long, holding off a strong comeback in the last eight minutes for a stunning 94-88 upset Saturday.

Dowdell scored 23 points, Gordon had 17 and six assists and the Hokies (13-4, 3-0 Atlantic Coast Conference) turned 17 turnovers into 20 points against the Tar Heels. Virginia Tech earned its second ever win against a top-ranked team.

North Carolina (15-2, 2-1), atop the poll for the first time in nearly six years, found out what everyone else is learning - these Hokies will take the ball away from you, not make too many mistakes and force teams to play smart or risk disappointment.

Duke found it out a week ago when the Hokies beat the No. 11 Blue Devils 69-67 in overtime at Cameron Indoor Stadium, and the Tar Heels experienced it first-hand, too.

The Hokies came in with an ACC-best turnover margin of 9.5.

North Carolina's 12-game winning streak that lifted it to the top of the poll for the first time since February 2001 never had a chance, even though the Tar Heels pulled within 91-88 with 16.9 second to play.

But Dowdell hit 1 of 2 free throws with 14.8 second left and Gordon added two more after rebounding a Tar Heels miss with 4.5 seconds left. After the final few seconds ticked off, hundreds of Hokies fans poured onto the court to celebrate.

The loss also snapped North Carolina's streak of 18 straight wins in the series.

With 12 minutes remaining, the Tar Heels trailed 66-44, but then Tyler Hansbrough and Ty Lawson spurred a rally that brought North Carolina back within eight points.

Hansbrough led the Tar Heels with 19 points and 15 rebounds and Lawson added 16.

But then Dowdell and Gordon, both senior guards, came to the Hokies' rescue and made sure that their biggest week in the ACC wouldn't end with a huge letdown.

The Tar Heels led 17-9 after just four minutes, prompting Hokies coach Seth Greenberg to call a time out even though the next dead ball would have brought on an officials' time out. Whatever he said clearly reached his team.

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 while the crowd at Cassell Coliseum whipped itself into an ear-piercing frenzy.

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 coasted.

North Carolina closed its deficit to 85-77 on a three-point play by Wayne Ellington with 1:43 left, and Markus Sailes missed a pair of free throws moments later for the Hokies. But Hansbrough was stripped close to his basket at the other end, Gordon was fouled with 1:13 left and his two free throws ended the Tar Heels' miracle hopes.

It was the second victory in seven games for the Hokies against No. 1 - the only other time they won, they beat Memphis State 69-56 at the Cassell on Jan. 10, 1983.

A.D. Vassallo added 17 points and Coleman Collins 12 for Virginia Tech.

For more coverage of North Carolina, visit CarolinaBlue.com; for more on Virginia Tech, visit HokieHaven.com.

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