North Carolina flexed its muscles during a convincing victory against Georgia Tech on Wednesday night. ROBERT WILLETT
CHAPEL HILL — Don’t look now but North Carolina has won three consecutive games and the Tar Heels are showing signs, slowly, of developing into the kind of team that Roy Williams believes they can. I made that the focus of my story off of UNC’s 79-63 victory against Georgia Tech.
Without further delay … the look back:
Three things to take away from UNC’s victory:
1. The Tar Heels are headed in the right direction.
I’ll be honest, folks: After the Heels’ dreadful second half performance against Maryland on Saturday, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect out of UNC tonight. It wouldn’t have surprised me to see the Tar Heels struggle against Georgia Tech. But they didn’t, really. The Heels played one of their more complete games of the season, instead. It wasn’t always pretty and UNC still has a lot of things to work on. But after an 0-2 start in ACC play, the Tar Heels have now won three consecutive games and there have been a lot of positives during the winning streak.
2. Defense led the way.
Georgia Tech isn’t a good offensive team. The Yellow Jackets have scored more than 65 points in just one of their five ACC games. So it’s not surprising that the Jackets struggled offensively again tonight. Still, UNC did what good teams should do: exploit an opponent’s weakness and turn it into an advantage. The Heels forced 19 turnovers – 10 of them in the first half – and they tried to turn those into scoring chances in transition. UNC was successful at that in the first half, and that success allowed the Heels to generate offense before the Jackets had a chance to set their defense. That was especially important given Georgia Tech’s primary strength is its half court defense.
3. Bring on the Wolfpack.
We all know what’s next: The Tar Heels travel on Saturday to play against N.C. State. These games are always meaningful, but the one on Saturday is especially so – even after the Pack’s deflating, disappointing defeat at Wake Forest on Tuesday night. N.C. State will attempt to break a long stretch of futility against UNC, while the Heels are seeking a victory that would perhaps be their most meanginful of the season to this point. And, oh yes – Dexter Strickland’s preseason commentary about the Wolfpack hasn't been forgotten. Should be a fun couple of days leading into Saturday night.
UNC won three out of the four categories – every one except for offensive rebounding percentage. The Tar Heels shot significantly better, did a better job of not turning it over and had a huge advantage when it came to getting to the free throw line. UNC made 13 of its 22 attempts from the line, while Georgia Tech was just 5-for-6.
The Heels led throughout, and by as many as 13 during the first half and by as many as 19 during the second. Georgia Tech hung around for a while during the second half but never seriously threatened.
UNC PLAYER OF THE GAME
It was another solid game for Reggie Bullock, UNC’s junior guard. He finished with 17 points and six rebounds, and also added a block and a steal.
OBSERVATIONS AND NOTES
--P.J. Hairston continued his recent trend of inconsistent play – but this time it benefited the Tar Heels. After going 1-for-8 from the field and scoring three points during the Tar Heels’ 62-52 victory against Maryland on Saturday, Hairston finished with 15 points in 17 minutes against Georgia Tech. He made three of his six 3-point attempts, and his memorable dunk with 6:15 to play seemed to deflate the Yellow Jackets. UNC coach Roy Williams said the Heels “have got to get the consistency out of him if he’s going to be the big-time player that we need him to be.”
--The Smith Center crowd was at its loudest after that dunk from Hairston. But the crowd cheered nearly as loudly when the video boards showed Duke’s 90-63 defeat against Miami.
--Former UNC standout Rashad McCants watched the game from the behind the Tar Heels’ bench. He wore a white UNC jersey with James Michael McAdoo’s No. 43 on it.
--The Yellow Jackets aren’t there yet, but they possess the pieces to be a competitive team in the coming seasons. Freshmen Marcus Georges-Hunt and Robert Carter both went 3-for-10 from the field, and fellow freshman Chris Bolden also struggled with his shot. Even so, those three players should represent a strong nucleus for coach Brian Gregory during the coming seasons.
--UNC blocked a season-high 10 shots. Desmond Hubert had five blocks in 22 minutes. Hubert also added six rebounds, the most he’s had in an ACC game.
--Freshman J.P. Tokoto played one of his best overall games of the season. He finished with eight points, four rebounds, two assists and a steal in 18 minutes. Entering Wednesday, Tokoto had scored seven points combined in UNC’s first four ACC games. The one downside on Wednesday night: He had four turnovers.
“Second half Saturday we were that Thriller video from Michael Jackson – looked like we were all dead walking around out there.” –Roy Williams, explaining his team’s better second-half play on Wednesday night
“[We’re] ot a finished product but three games in a row is three games in a row. I can’t remember the last time we had that going against good teams. I would say any team in the ACC is good … we’re just ready to come back and get ready for this game on Saturday, though.” –James Michael McAdoo
“I’m seeing our team gelling together a lot better, knowing their roles and what they are capable of doing. So they’re just going out there, playing the game that coach recruited them to play.” –Reggie Bullock
The aforementioned trip to Raleigh on Saturday.