Remember kids, there are no style points in ACC play, a win is a win.
ACC play is a grind and this game was a classic example of that. UNC faced a decent Georgia Tech team and found itself in a tooth and nail battle before pushing through over the final minutes to grab an eight point win.
UNC and Georgia Tech both got off to torrid starts and the game settled into an up and down, back and forth affair. Joel James, making his sixth straight start in place of Kennedy Meeks scored on three consecutive baskets in less than a minute to put the Heels up 10-6. Georgia Tech kept pace thanks to three point shooting from Adam Smith.
With the game tied at 19-19, the Yellow Jackets made a run fueled by Smith's shooting and UNC turnovers. Joel Berry and Nate Britt had a pair of miscues each leading to eight Yellow Jacket points. The Georgia Tech lead reached as high as nine at 35-26 before a Marcus Paige three cut the lead to six. Six points from Hicks over the final 2:18 of the half helped close the Yellow Jacket lead to 42-39 at the break.
The second half opened much like the first with both teams hitting shots. When UNC was able to get stops, the Tar Heels couldn't quite get over the hump. Theo Pinson ran into quick foul trouble trying to guard Tech's Marcus Georges-Hunt and the Jackets maintained a 57-53 lead with 14:31 left. The Tar Heels finally pulled even at 12:33 and following a Yellow Jacket miss, Nate Britt drove off the wing drawing the defense then dumped off to Brice Johnson for the go ahead dunk. UNC's lead reached four on that 6-0 run but a 6-0 run by the Jackets put Georgia Tech ahead by two.
Enter Joel Berry.
For much of the game Berry had struggled to take care of the basketball. His two first half turnovers led to Georgia Tech points and for the game he finished with five. Berry was able to get into the lane but had not been a huge offensive factor. Berry then made arguably the two biggest baskets of the game. The first was a three with UNC trailing 67-66 to give UNC the lead back for good. After a Georgia Tech turnover, Berry drove to the basket, hit the shot and was fouled. The ensuing free throw, part of a personal 6-0 run on Berry's part put the Heels up five with 4:40 left.
Georgia Tech got one more Adam Smith three with UNC up seven to cut the lead back to four. However UNC was in the bonus over the final 11 minutes and took every advantage of the free points. Over the final 2:36, Berry made 5-6 free throws and UNC made 10-12. For the game UNC hit 24-29 shots at the line.
Berry led UNC with 19 points and had four assists. Brice Johnson bounced back from his three point outing versus Clemson with 15 points and 11 rebounds. Marcus Paige scored 13, Isaiah Hicks 12 and Justin Jackson 10 points. The surprise offense of the day came from Joel James with 11 points on 5-6 shooting to go along with five rebounds.
UNC moves to 13-2 overall and 2-0 in ACC play. The Tar Heels return to action Monday night against FSU in Tallahassee.