BLACKSBURG, Va. - New rotation, same old story.
North Carolina coach Roy Williams tinkered with his lineup and saw some positive results, but in the end the Tar Heels suffered yet another conference loss, falling 74-70 to Virginia Tech.
It was the fifth loss in the past six games for Carolina (13-9, 2-5 in the ACC) and snapped a five-game winning streak against the Hokies (17-4, 4-3).
"It's tough what we're going through," Williams said. "It doesn't get any easier."
Freshmen John Henson and David Wear each posted a career high in scoring, while another freshman, Dexter Strickland replaced senior Marcus Ginyard in the starting lineup.
"Marcus has been struggling," Williams said. "I thought he handled (the change) greatly."
The results of Williams' tinkering looked to be an initial success, with Carolina recovering from an early 12-point deficit to take a halftime lead.
It was certainly a step in the right direction from the Heels' previous game, a blowout loss at home against Virginia.
But the locker room was just as somber following the four-point loss.
"It's definitely disheartening, not encouraging," point guard Larry Drew II said.
Carolina's fate was sealed when Will Graves had a 3-point try roll in and out with UNC trailing 71-67 with less than half a minute to go.
"It would have been fun if Will's 3-point shot stayed in," Williams said.
For a while, though, things were more fun for the Tar Heels despite the hostile road environment.
Henson, who was the first Tar Heel off the bench-the second-biggest tweak Williams made to the lineup-needed just 14 minutes to score his 14 points, second only to Ed Davis's 15.
The freshman forward was instrumental in Carolina's first-half run to overcome an early 12-point deficit and eventually take a 35-33 lead at halftime.
Despite playing some minutes in an unfamiliar position at power forward, Henson looked more comfortable than he has all year, throwing down a pair of two-handed dunks during UNC's run.
"That's one thing I had to do, I had to start playing harder," Henson said.
Henson had eight points by the half in as many minutes, but he wasn't alone in thriving as part of the altered rotation.
Strickland, starting in place of Ginyard, started strong with seven-first half rebounds but vanished in the second half, failing to record a statistic of any kind save for a single turnover in six minutes.
Ginyard, on the other hand, finally produced a bit of offense after being 0-for-8 shooting in his past two games and 2-for-17 in his past three. The senior's six points weren't much-especially given his four turnovers-but he at least got to see a couple of jumpers fall.
Carolina even looked good offensively for a stretch, with Drew penetrating into the lane to open things up underneath for Davis and others.
But in the second half, the Tar Heels gave the ball away too much-they had 19 turnovers in the game-and weren't as aggressive on the glass as they were while building an eight-rebound advantage in the first half.
They also missed 10 free throws, including eight in the first half, giving away points they could have used in the end.
"We definitely stepped up (the effort) part of our game," Ginyard said. "This team can do a lot of great things, but we're not playing the way we're capable of playing."