That wasn't pretty but given the Tar Heels were playing the Bermuda Triangle of UNC athletics and the way the game unfolded, this was a somewhat impressive win. Not in the sense Georgia Tech is a great team because clearly the Yellow Jackets don't fit that bill. However UNC overcame some adversity during the course of the game to gut out a 78-65 win behind 19 points and seven assists from Marcus Paige.
Neither team was very good in the first half but UNC was ever so slightly better building a 24-15 lead with 4:57 left in the half fueled in large part by James Michael McAdoo's eight points and five rebounds. McAdoo's second foul forced Roy Williams to take him out and the Tar Heels sputtered a bit going into halftime giving up a 10-2 as Georgia Tech slashed the lead to one at the break. Paige had another poor half of shooting going 1-7 and missing two threes. Leslie McDonald hit a three early but missed multiple open looks. UNC shot 31% from the floor in the first half trending towards one of those suspect offensive performances that has plagued this team this season.
The second half ended up being a polar opposite offensively for the Tar Heels with the Heels shooting 67% over the final 20 minutes. One catalyst to that was McAdoo and J.P. Tokoto both picking up their fourth foul before the first TV timeout of the half leading to a serious gut check moment with UNC up just two points. Paige in typical bad first half/good second half fashion, answered the bell. The sophomore guard scored 17 points on 6-6 shooting and 3-3 from behind the arc to help UNC open up a double-digit lead. McDonald, who had an up and down game at times scored ten points in the second half including 5-6 from the free throw line. The Heels also got big minutes from Brice Johnson during the stretch of foul trouble.Kennedy Meeks continued his impressive run of games with nine points and 10 rebounds.
Ultimately UNC's ability to secure the win came down to free throw shooting and again the Tar Heel stepped up. UNC went 14-16 from the free throw line over the final four minutes of the game getting clutch shooting from McAdoo, Nate Britt, Leslie McDonald and Marcus Paige. For a team that came into the game shooting 61% from at the charity stripe, the Heels were clutch when they needed to be staving off a potential Georgia Tech rally.
After a 1-4 start to ACC play, UNC looks to be getting into a groove of sorts. The schedule is helping in that respect but at the same time there is never anything easy about winning on the road in the ACC. Given how things were going at the start of January, this is easily a game the Tar Heels could have dropped. UNC didn't capitalize offensively in the first half then dealt with serious foul trouble early in the second half which could have really complicated matters. Instead the Tar Heels showed some resiliency, overcame the foul trouble and got Paige going to escape Atlanta with a win.