Tar Heels pull away from Yellow Jackets
North Carolina played the role of favorite to perfection against Georgia Tech on Wednesday night, racing out to the lead and never letting the Yellow Jackets get within striking distance in the second half en route to a comfortable 79-63 win at the Smith Center.
After losing its first two conference games, UNC (13-5) is now 3-2 in the ACC heading into Saturday’s showdown at N.C. State. The Yellow Jackets (10-7, 0-5) remain the only team without an ACC win.
“Coach mentioned to us plenty of times that everyone expected us to take it light on Georgia Tech, but that wasn’t our game plan at all,” UNC senior Dexter Strickland said. “We had to come out ready to play.”
Reggie Bullock followed up his career-high 24-point performance Saturday against Maryland with a team-high 17 points on 7-of-12 shooting, while P.J. Hairston added 15 and James Michael McAdoo had 14 points and nine rebounds.
Guards Marcus Paige and Strickland each had six assists, while sophomore Desmond Hubert solidified his role as the starting center with a career-high five blocks.
“I think we’re close to being a good basketball team,” UNC coach Roy Williams said. “We have to finish plays more, we have to make more shots — there’s no question about that. We had some breakdowns defensively.
“The best news is — now I hope it’s in my lifetime — we can get a lot better. We have every area of the game we can improve.”
Georgia Tech actually led at halftime at Duke and at N.C. State in its first two trips to the Triangle, but UNC jumped ahead early on the way to improving to 22-4 against the Yellow Jackets in the Smith Center.
A strong series of plays by Hairston — the sophomore hit a 3-pointer, took a charge and then hit Brice Johnson in stride for a layup with an outlet pass — gave UNC an early 15-8 lead. The lead grew to 13 on a 3-pointer by Bullock with eight minutes left in the half.
At that point, the Tar Heels hit 50 percent of their shots and were 4-of-8 from 3-point range. But the Yellow Jackets, who entered the game 13th nationally in field goal percentage defense (37.3), forced five straight misses by UNC to get back into the game.
A 3-pointer by Solomon Poole brought Georgia Tech within 36-32 with 2:04 to play in the first half, but UNC scored the last four points to go into halftime ahead by eight.
In contrast to Saturday’s lackluster second-half effort against Maryland, the Tar Heels continued the momentum right after halftime.
Bullock and McAdoo scored on offensive rebounds to start the 9-2 run, and Strickland and Bullock scored in transition to put the Tar Heels up 49-34.
“Coach mentioned to us that we needed to play with more of a sense of urgency on offense and on defense, and the guys did a pretty good job of that,” Strickland said.
Four straight turnovers by UNC allowed Georgia Tech to hang around, though back-to-back 3-pointers by Hairston and Bullock brought the lead back to 15 with 14 minutes left.
The margin fluctuated between 10 and 16 throughout the second half until a pair of powerful dunks sealed the game for the Tar Heels. After a steal by Strickland, Hairston slammed the ball over 6-11 center Daniel Miller, and then freshman J.P. Tokoto dunked in his own miss to give UNC its largest lead at 72-53.
NOTES — Rashad McCants watched the game from behind the UNC bench while wearing a No. 43 jersey, the same number as McAdoo. A member of the 2005 national championship team, McCants received an ovation when he was shown on the videoboard. ... The crowd also cheered wildly when the videoboard displayed the score of the Duke-Miami from earlier in the night.
UNC 79, Ga. Tech 63
Percentages: FG .360, FT .833. 3-Point Goals: 4-15, .267 (Royal 1-1, Carter 1-2, Reed 1-2, Poole 1-3, Georges-Hunt 0-1, Bolden 0-3, Udofia 0-3). Team Rebounds: 2. Blocked Shots: 3 (Miller 2, Holsey). Turnovers: 19 (Carter 4, Miller 3, Poole 3, Bolden 2, Holsey 2, Georges-Hunt 2, Reed, Udofia, Poole Jr.). Steals: 8 (Bolden 3, Miller 2, Georges-Hunt 2, Carter).
Percentages: FG .429, FT .591. 3-Point Goals: 6-17, .353 (Hairston 3-6, Bullock 2-7, Paige 1-2, Tokoto 0-1, McAdoo 0-1). Team Rebounds: 3. Blocked Shots: 10 (Hubert 5, James 2, Johnson, Bullock, McAdoo). Turnovers: 14 (Tokoto 4, Paige 3, Hairston 2, Strickland 2, Tanner, Bullock, McAdoo). Steals: 9 (Strickland 3, Hubert, Tokoto, James, Paige, Bullock, McAdoo).
A—19,124. Officials—Doug Sirmons, Gary Maxwell, Tim Kelly.