CHAPEL HILL – North Carolina was able to pull away from Georgia Tech in the final minutes, improving to 2-0 in the ACC with a 86-78 win over the Yellow Jackets, thanks to a 13-3 run in a span of three minutes and thirty seven seconds.
The Heels took their first lead of the second half and played well just long enough to get win No. 13. Carolina dominated the final five minutes, after trailing by as many as nine at one point in the game.
That all changed when sophomore guard Joel Berry II got going. Berry’s three gave UNC its first lead of the second half, 69-67, and moments later he was fouled while hitting a layup, giving Carolina a five-point lead after the free throw. That spark from Berry lit a fire under the rest of the Heels as UNC outplayed Tech the rest of the way.
“For us, I thought Joel Berry made a couple of huge, huge plays,” UNC coach Roy Williams said. “The two biggest plays of the game.”
Berry wasn’t effective in the first half, scoring four points and having two turnovers, but he stayed dialed into the game on the defensive end and was patient enough to know his offense would follow. When his number was called, Berry was ready to step up.
“I just tried to help out on the defensive end,” Berry said. “I knew that I really wasn’t having a big game on the offensive end, but they were paying a lot of attention to Marcus (Paige) and when he came off the ball screen it gave me a little confidence when I hit the three. I felt like myself.”
Despite the early poor play, cold shooting and turnovers (7), UNC closed the gap before halftime, pulling to within three. Isaiah Hicks made it a two-point game with a layup, but the Yellow Jackets added one free throw on a questionable foul called on Brice Johnson.
Carolina got its first six points from senior forward Joel James (2.4 ppg season average). James, alone, tied Georgia Tech 6-6 in the opening minutes, but the rest of the Yellow Jackets got going, while UNC struggled.
“Joel was really something for us, early,” Williams said. “I’m extremely happy for him.”
After taking a 15-10 lead, the Heels started turning the ball over and shooting blanks. Georgia Tech went on a 7-0 run to take the lead, trailing the rest of the half. The Yellow Jackets largest lead with nine, as they were able to convert seven turnovers into eight points.
The second half was an uphill battle for the Heels, but a battle they were up for. After pulling to within two on several occasions and unable to get a key stop, Carolina finally tied the game and went ahead for good to pull away for its sixth straight win.
“Give North Carolina credit,” Tech coach Brian Gregory said. “They did a lot of great things in the second half. I thought we played well on the road against a high-caliber, high-quality team, not quite well enough.”
Game changer – Joel Berry II went on a 6-0 run by himself, knocking down a three, then converting an old-fashioned three-point play to put the Heels up 72-67. Justin Jackson then followed with a floater to give UNC a seven point lead, its largest of the second half to that point.
Numbers don’t lie
6 – Number of players UNC has in double figures. Joel Berry II (19), Brice Johnson (15), Marcus Paige (13), Isaiah Hicks (12), Joel James (11) and Justin Jackson (10) made up the majority of the scoring. The rest of the Heels combined for just six points.
“I felt good about some guys,” Williams said. “You look down and you get six guys in double figures, you like that.”
13 – Number of second chance points for the Tar Heels.
15 – Number of free throw attempts by Georgia Tech guard Marcus Georges-Hunt. Only one other Yellow Jacket attempted a free throw all day.
Brice Johnson, UNC – Johnson, who fouled out of the game with 23 seconds remaining, had a productive 26 minutes, finishing with 15 points and 11 rebounds.
Joel Berry, UNC – Berry shook off a slow first half and finished with a team-high 19 points, 15 coming in the second half.
Marcus Georges-Hunt, Georgia Tech – Finished with a game-high 25 points, shot 12-15 from the foul line.
Adam Smith, Georgia Tech – Had 20 points and went 6-10 from behind the arch.
What’s next? – North Carolina will take a trip to the Sunshine State for a showdown with Florida State.