Updated 9:44 p.m.
CHAPEL HILL — North Carolina coach Roy Williams always believed it was just a matter of time before his team starting shooting well again from the outside. Before their 93-81 victory against Georgia Tech here on Sunday night, the Tar Heels were shooting 24.6 percent from 3-point range in ACC play.
Still, Williams remained confident those shots would one day fall. And they did against the Yellow Jackets.
No. 7 UNC (18-3, 5-1) shot a season-high 62.5 percent from 3-point range against the Yellow Jackets, who allowed the Heels open look after open look on the perimeter. Kendall Marshall, UNC’s sophomore point guard, wasted no time in explaining his team’s success from the outside on Sunday, as opposed to its recent struggles there.
“They were wide-open shots,” Marshall said. “I don’t think we took many contested shots in the first half.”
Marshall finished with 12 assists but it was his lone 3-pointer, which came on UNC’s first possession of the game, that got the Heels going early. They made 8 of their 12 3-point attempts in the first half and Reggie Bullock, making his second career start, made all three of his 3’s in the first half while UNC built a 52-32 at intermission.
“We’re good shooters,” Williams said. “I mean, we really are. We make a bunch of them in practice all the time. So I’ve said the whole time that I thought that – I believe that – when we started making them it would make things even a lot prettier. And again I believe I said when we started making them. I don’t think I said if.”
Indeed, the Tar Heels played a pretty game at times, at least offensively. The 93 points is the most UNC has scored in a conference game this season and the Heels shot 54.1 percent overall – their fifth-best percentage of the season.
As a team, UNC was at its best in the first half, when it held Georgia Tech to 37.8 percent shooting and dominated the Yellow Jackets (8-13, 1-6) on offense. Individually, though, Harrison Barnes was at his best during the second half, when he scored 12 of his game-high 23 points.
Williams said he thought Barnes made poor decisions at times during the first half, especially on a few reckless drives to the basket. But Barnes played with more control in the second, when he hurt the Jackets from the inside and out.
The Tar Heels began the game wearing pink shoes as a tribute to breast cancer awareness. But Barnes – along with Tyler Zeller – switched shoes at halftime.
“It’s all in the shoes,” Barnes said with a smile. “As [Michael Jordan] used to say, it’s all in the shoes.”
Barnes said he had planned before the game to switch shoes at halftime and, as it turned out, he said the pink ones were “killing” his feet, anyway. Zeller added 17 points for the Tar Heels, and John Henson 13.
Bullock, who entered the starting lineup after Dexter Strickland suffered a season-ending knee injury a week and a half ago, finished with 11 points. As pleased as Williams was with his team’s perimeter shooting – and its first-half performance overall – he said the Heels lost focus during the second half.
The Yellow Jackets never seriously threatened UNC, and the 12-point final margin was the closest the game had been since 6:06 remained in the first half. Still, the Jackets – one of the ACC’s worst 3-point shooting teams – made 7 of their 10 3’s during the second half, when UNC’s focus seemed to wane.
After becoming especially frustrated at one point, Williams received a technical foul with 18:08 to play. Asked why he had received the technical, Williams said, "I’m not saying one word about that."
At last, though, he had plenty to say – all of it good – about UNC’s perimeter shooting.
Photo: UNC's Tyler Zeller dunks over Georgia Tech's Daniel Miller in the first half. ROBERT WILLETT - firstname.lastname@example.org