Georgia Tech coach Paul Hewitt said he’s been telling people for a month that North Carolina, despite its recent struggles, is not a team anyone wants to face late in the season.
After watching his team beat up on the Tar Heels 68-51 on Tuesday night, he –- and the rest of the league -- might want to re-think that evaluation.
UNC (14-12, 3-8 in the ACC) yet again was turnover-prone (19 total, 15 in the first half), shot poorly (season-low 32.2 percent), and flirted with posting the worst margin defeat of the Roy Williams era for the third time in 34 days. (It lost by 21 points at Maryland on Feb. 7, and 19 points at Clemson on January 13.)
As it was, the Heels' 51 points marked the lowest output since Williams returned to Chapel Hill in 2003 -- worse than the 54 it managed against Duke last week.
As a result, the latest blowout means the Tar Heels would have to win their last five games to finish .500 in the ACC – usually the record that secures an NCAA at-large bid. But judging by their play at Alexander Memorial Coliseum, they may have to worry about the possibility of not winning another game at all.
"There's not a lot to say,'' Williams said. "I'm totally shocked, totally stunned by our performance in the first half. Mentally and physically we were somewhere, but it wasn't here for the basketball game.
"I told Paul when we got together, I said, 'I'm sorry. I think we drug your team down to a bad level in the second half.' I'm at a loss."
Georgia Tech (18-8, 6-6) tweaked it’s starting lineup, inserting freshman Glen Rice Jr. for struggling the struggling Mfon Udofia. But no matter who was on the floor, the Jackets dominated.
With 11:16 left in the first half, UNC junior Will Graves cut his team’s deficit to 17-14 with a 3-pointer. Then Tech ripped off a 21-4 run – during which point guard Larry Drew II was the only Tar Heel to make a field goal – to take a 38-18 lead. Senior forward Deon Thompson halted the run, briefly, with a bucket with 2:55 left. But his team didn’t manage another field goal for the rest of the half.
"The minute a team makes a run on us, if we're not able to respond to the run, we just shut down,'' said Drew, who was 2-for-8 with eight turnovers, three assists and seven points. " ... Coach will probably say that we quit out there, but maybe if shots aren't going in, or if we're turning the ball over, after a missed shot or a turnover, instead of responding to it with a good play, it has a smothering effect for us sometimes, it just keeps happening, keeps happening, keeps happening. Other teams, they capitalize on that."
Carolina shot 22.6 percent in the first half, another low for the Williams era, and trailed 41-21 at halftime. It marked the worst scoring half for UNC this season, surpassing the 27 it scored – in both halves – against the Blue Devils last week.
UNC, which battled back from a 26-5 Yellow Jackets run when these two teams played last month, didn’t have the firepower to do it again.
With forward Ed Davis, Travis Wear and Tyler Zeller all out with injuries, Tech’s big men pushed the Tar Heels around. Thompson led the Tar Heels with 17 points, but Derrick Favors (13 points, nine rebounds) and Gani Lawal (nine points, 11 rebounds) helped out-rebound the Tar Heels by five, and outscored them 14-5 on second-chance points.
The win halted Georgia Tech’s two-game losing streak, and marked the first time the Yellow Jackets have swept UNC in the regular season since 1996.
"We just didn't do a good job of trying to work together out there on the court; we tried to do a lot on our own,'' said UNC senior Marcus Ginyard, who was 0-for-2 in 17 minutes. "And we weren't very successful, didn't shoot the ball very well, and didn't help each other out."