The improved Georgia Tech basketball team that had begun to assert itself on the lower rungs of the ACC was nowhere to be found Tuesday night at McCamish Pavilion.
Instead, a packed house that included several heroes from Tech’s past saw a team that could not keep up with a superior North Carolina outfit and torched any chance of an upset with buckets of mistakes, many unforced. The final score was 70-58, a somewhat deceiving result in that the Tar Heels led by 22 points with just over four minutes to go.
“We played a good team and we did a lot of good things,” coach Brian Gregory said. “We’re just not at a point right now, unfortunately, to be good enough to make up for some of the glaring mistakes that we made.”
It was a rare home loss to the Tar Heels for Tech, which had beaten UNC six of the past seven at home prior to Tuesday night. The Jackets are 0-5 against the ACC’s top four teams by RPI ranking – Duke, Miami, N.C. State and UNC – and 4-4 against the rest of the league, and those four losses have all been by five points or less.
Tech (14-11 overall, 4-9 ACC) was swept by UNC (18-8, 8-5) for the first time since the 2000-01 season.
The game turned at the under-16 TV timeout in the second half. To that point, Tech had managed to keep pace with the Tar Heels and trailed by only four, 41-37. A 12-4 run by the next TV timeout put the game out of reach. From that point, the rout continued. The run ended at 25-7 for a 66-44 lead at the 4:50 mark as the Tar Heels repeatedly turned Tech misses and turnovers into baskets with dizzying speed.
“It felt like we got the shots we wanted, they just weren’t falling, and they were getting easy transition points because we weren’t getting back,” forward Marcus Georges-Hunt said.
The most critical numbers were these – 19 Tech turnovers that the Tar Heels converted into 21 points. By comparison, Tech turned UNC’s nine turnovers into 12 points.
This was a typical sequence in the second half – with just under 14 minutes to go, Tech trailed 47-41 with the ball, trying to stay within striking distance. Georges-Hunt drove to the rim and delivered a pass to center Daniel Miller, who couldn’t handle the pass. The Tar Heels pounced on the loose ball and in a flash Reggie Bullock was at the other end, laying the ball in the basket for an eight-point lead.
It was a collection of such mistakes, principally rushed possessions and unforced turnovers, that sped Tech’s downfall Tuesday night. In moments, when it forced the Tar Heels into long possessions and used its offense to create free shots at the basket, Tech was able to compete. Those moments, however, were washed out by the Jackets’ inability to keep pace with the UNC transition game or adequately handle its defensive pressure.
“They’re better defensively than you give them credit for,” Gregory said. “Not that we’re an offensive juggernaut by any stretch, but they did a good job defensively in terms of challenging and getting their hands on passes.”
While Tech has made discernible progress since last playing the Tar Heels, a 79-63 loss in Chapel Hill, N.C., Jan. 23, the games had a similar feel, primarily with the Jackets getting baited into speeding up their offense to match that of the up-tempo Tar Heels. Tech turned the ball over 19 times in that game, as well, a total it had not reached in the seven games in between.
“We try to get back on defense, slow down their fast break, but we just can’t get caught up in it,” Miller said. “We start playing it and that’s not our game.”
UNC’s transition game and aggressive defensive style are evidently not a good matchup for Tech. In three games since Gregory’s hire, the Jackets lost by 12 last year, 16 earlier this season and 12 Tuesday. All three games were much more decisive than the scores would indicate.
"We can learn from it, that’s about the best we can do,” Miller said. “Learn from it and, if we face ’em later in the (ACC) tournament or something, hopefully we’ll be ready.”
UNC won without the anticipated onslaught of guard P.J. Hairston, who had scored 52 points in two games since coach Roy Williams put him in the starting lineup for a four-guard alignment. Hairston, mostly defended by forward Robert Carter, was held to 10 points on 4-for-15 shooting, including 1-for-7 from 3-point range. Rather, Tech was eaten up by forward/center James Michael McAdoo, who scored a game-high 22 points on 9-for-19 shooting. He scored often on slips to the basket and by using his speed and quickness against Tech's big men. The Jackets picked the wrong team to face for their third game in six days.
Until the Tar Heels ran away after the first TV timeout of the second half, Tech had managed to stay close, far better than the Jackets had managed in the first game. Through the first half, North Carolina’s largest lead was six points, and its 36-30 halftime edge ought not to have been that large. Tech missed all six of its free-throw attempts in the first half, including two that were on the front end of one-and-one situations.
Tech, last in the ACC in free-throw shooting, finished the game 4-for-11 from the line.
Guard Chris Bolden and Georges-Hunt led Tech with 12 each, followed by forward Kammeon Holsey’s 10. Miller had 12 rebounds to go with three blocks and six points.
Tech will be off until it plays at Virginia Sunday.