The old adage is that any win in the ACC, especially on the road, is a good win. It’s really tough to find fault in a 23-point road win, especially one against a team as pesky as Georgia Tech. It was only two seasons ago that the eventual national champs dropped a head-scratcher in Atlanta, and while rusty, Carolina essentially led the game wire to wire.
So what did we learn last night in this game against the Yellow Jackets?
This team can hit shots...but...
First the good: going into the game Georgia Tech was only giving up 26% from behind the arc against opponents. Carolina destroyed that number by shooting an outstanding 48%. Six different players made a three-pointer, and the really good thing is that a lot of them didn’t come from desperation but in the flow of the offense and good passing (more on this in a second). When you face a zone, the easiest way to break it is to shoot from outside, but somehow the Yellow Jackets have managed to play this defense and keep the long distance shot from killing them.
The hot shooting was necessary from Carolina because inside, the Tar Heels had zero answers. Carolina was throughly beat in the paint 36-22. Yes, you read that right, a Carolina team scored 77 points and only 22 game in the paint. Georgia Tech’s combination of zone and size made if difficult for Carolina to get anything going inside, and the worrying thing if you are a Tar Heel fan is that Georgia Tech’s size isn't exactly good size. Remember, last year ended against a team stacked inside and Carolina’s shots didn’t fall. As the season goes along, it’s becoming clear that Carolina’s shooters can’t have an off night, or their chances of winning will be low.
Coby White is rapidly putting it all together
The freshman followed up his great performance against Virginia Tech with 19 points and 8 assists versus the Yellow Jackets. Even better, he only had two turnovers, plus he helped facilitate the offense when he was on the floor.
That’s multiple games now where the freshman has been at or near the top of the scoring column while making fewer mistakes. When he went off against Texas, it felt like White was hunting his shot, and they were going in. These last few games his shots have been in the flow in the offense, smooth catches with a good release. In fact, he’s shooting a smooth 50% behind the arc his last two games. He also had a couple of drives in the rare transition moments Carolina got that reminded you of his speed. That ability to drive the basket will continue to give him space behind the arc, as defenses have to respect his speed.
The assists last night were huge, as well. In the second half Cam Johnson had the hot hand and rather than try to match him, White recognized his teammate had it and made sure he had the ball. He’s still a freshman point guard, and there’s a decent chance at some point he’ll show that again. White, though, is showing exactly why Roy Williams named him the starter.
This team might be able to play defense
Make no mistake, Georgia Tech is not a good offensive team. They came into the game ranked in the bottom third in offense nationally, so some of their lack of success can be blamed on that. But, when a team only shoots 35% overall and 12.5% from three (yes, you read that right), then you have to credit the work on defense.
Even when the shots weren’t falling for Carolina in the first half, the team played good defense on the Yellow Jackets to make sure they didn’t take advantage. Multiple times the Jackets would try to drive only to find the lane clogged, and several players were able to jump in front of passes to get some spectacular slam dunks. Carolina also won the turnover battle 16-15, something that hasn’t happened a lot this season, but has happened two games in a row.
The Tar Heels managed to work through their rust and never really let the Jackets have a shot at controlling the game, despite them hanging within a few baskets for a majority of the first half. By the second half, that rust was gone, the defense stayed intense, and the lead ballooned to 30 before anyone knew what was going on. It was good to see, especially after the time off. The question is: will they continue the effort on that side of the ball against better teams? It could be what saves them on nights that no one can hit a shot from deep.