ATLANTA– The North Carolina men’s basketball team survived treacherous wintry conditions, serious foul trouble, and some sloppy play to down Georgia Tech 78-65 and improve to 13-7 overall and 3-4 in the ACC with the first road conference win of the season.
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With the loss, Georgia Tech fell to 11-10 overall on the season and 2-6 in conference action. The win was a rare one for the Tar Heels in recent times at Georgia Tech. Entering the contest, UNC had dropped five of its last seven games against the Yellow Jackets in Atlanta.
Marcus Paige saved his best play for the second half, scoring all but two of his 17 points for the closing 20 minutes of action. James Michael McAdoo had a solid night on the hardwood with 17 points despite his limited minutes while Kennedy Meeks came oh so close to a double-double with nine points and ten rebounds.
“To me it’s the whole key of a good basketball team, can you play with a great sense of urgency? I think we did on Saturday, and I think we did for the second half today, but we did not for the first half,” Head Coach Roy Williams said after the game.
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The 13-6 offensive rebounding advantage for the Tar Heels aided in the victory, but McAdoo and J.P. Tokoto had racked up four fouls each by the 15:59 mark in the second half to present some challenges to the visiting Carolina squad.
“I there was a much greater sense of urgency on our guys because James Michael [McAdoo] and J.P. [Tokoto] both were sitting over there. With two of them over there sitting on the bench, I think everybody understood and raised their level of play a little bit,” Coach Williams said.
Georgia Tech’s Trae Golden led the scoring charge for the Yellow Jackets with 21 points, but it wasn’t enough to overcome the determined play of Carolina.
McAdoo won the opening tip for the Tar Heels, and he wasted no time scoring the first points of the game to give the lead to visiting UNC. Meeks followed that up with a 15-point jumper that found the nets to give Carolina a quick 4-0 lead.
Georgia Tech answered with a make of its own to close the gap to a pair of points with 18 minutes to play in the first half. Paige delivered a beautiful pass to Leslie McDonald in transition to stake Carolina out to a 6-4 advantage with 16:34 on the first half clock.
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McDonald missed an open three-pointer badly off the backboard, but a defensive block by Meeks on the other end provided a Tar Heel lift that Paige converted on, and at the first timeout of the game at the 15:12 mark, the Tar Heels were leading the Yellow Jackets 8-6.
Some sloppy play ensued by both squads that included kicked balls, missed passes and fumbled exchanges in a prolonged period of no scoring. Georgia Tech’s Georges-Hunt ended the drought with a strong slam that was then quickly followed by a score by UNC’s Brice Johnson to place the score at 10-8 in favor of the Tar Heels with 12:40 to go in the opening half.
McDonald buried a three-pointer to give Carolina the 13-10 lead at the 11:57 mark. On a later possession, Johnson couldn’t hang on to a nice pass by Meeks inside, and the ball was swatted away by a swarm of Yellow Jacket defenders.
Daniel Miller was getting the hot hand for Georgia Tech. He sunk a deep jumper to give the home team their first lead at 14-13 with 9:46 on the first half clock. But a long-range two-pointer slid through the basket for McAdoo to reclaim the lead for the Tar Heels.
An over-the-top pass from McDonald set up an easy score for McAdoo to extend the UNC gap. On the other end of the floor, the defensive intensity for the Tar Heels was evident in the first half.
Georgia Tech’s sloppy play included 6 turnovers with 5:30 to go in the first half. The Tar Heels were taking full advantage with a 21-15 lead.
A couple quick fouls on UNC allowed Georgia Tech to get to the free throw line and trim the lead down to 24-18 with 3:56 to play in the first half. Following a timeout, Georgia Tech scored on a running coast-to-coast play to narrow the margin down to four points.
Trae Golden ignited the Yellow Jacket crowd by sniping a three-pointer to cut the Tar Heel lead down to a mere three points at 26-23 with under a minute left in the half. A careless foul by Johnson sent Golden to the line for three foul shots. He made two.
At the break, Carolina held a slim 26-25 edge over Georgia Tech after a 10-2 run by the Yellow Jackets.
UNC attempted 17 more shots than Georgia Tech in the first half, but they just weren’t falling as the Tar Heels shot 30 percent from the field while the Yellow Jackets made 46 percent of their attempts.
UNC’s starting perimeter trio of Paige, McDonald and Tokoto went 4-19 from the floor and only managed to make one three-point attempt.
The second half got underway with some Carolina energy. A pair of scores staked UNC out to a 30-26 lead with 18:59 to go in the contest. McAdoo earned a trip to the foul line to inch the lead out to five soon after.
Yellow Jacket Miller broke his long scoring drought to push his nightly total up to ten and trim the Carolina lead back down to three. Meeks answered right back with another made jump shot.
Carolina led 36-31 when Tokoto hit the bench after picking up his fourth foul of the game. With 15:49 to go, McAdoo committed his fourth foul to push UNC into deep trouble with two of their stronger players sitting out so early in the second half.
Georgia Tech cut the lead down to two points before a timely Paige three-pointer fell through the nets to establish a more comfortable advantage yet again.
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Coach Williams soon became furious with the McDonald mistakes, and he promptly took him off the court.
Johnson picked up another score to match the largest lead of the night for the Tar Heels at nine points. With 11:47 remaining in the second half, Carolina held the 45-36 lead. The Tar Heels were shooting an incredible 73 percent at that stage.
McDonald popped a three-pointer midway through the second half as the offensively challenged Yellow Jackets continued to struggle. With 7:59 to play, UNC maintained a 48-40 cushion.
Georgia Tech’s Miller continued to keep his team in the contest with tenacious play. But it wasn’t enough to overcome the deficit than felt like more than it was due to the physical, grind-it-out style of the game.
The balanced attack continued for UNC with Paige, McDonald and Meeks all contributing. A ten-point lead for Car0lina at 58-48 at the five-minute mark was enough for Carolina to hold on for the vital 78-65 road victory with some clutch free throws down the stretch by Nate Britt, McDonald and McAdoo.
You can view a game photo gallery right here.