ACC Basketball

Tar Heels Trash Yellow Jackets

Four Corners

WHAT JUST HAPPENED:
Coming off a tough 92-90 overtime loss to Duke Wednesday night, no one could blame the North Carolina Tar Heels if they came out a little sluggish at home against the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets. Did I say sluggish? I meant on fire. The Tar Heels scored the game’s first seven points, never let Tech get closer than a pair of threes, led by 14 at the half and then blew it up in the second half, opening up a 38-point lead before calling off the dogs. The result…a 89-60 good ole fashion butt whipping.

FIVE NOT-SO-DEEP THOUGHTS

  • Rebounding was going to be the key, as both Georgia Tech and North Carolina were excellent offensive rebounding teams coming into the game, yet the Tar Heels dominated for the most part. The 37-29 difference doesn’t even do what they did justice. First, North Carolina only missed 23 shots and they rebounded nearly a third of those. The Yellow Jackets did end up with 11 offensive boards, but they often came in groups. At one point in the first half they went nearly 13 minutes without a offensive board and then in the second half, they grabbed just one in a 15-minute span. Also, despite the fact Tech had four more offensive boards total, Carolina beat them in second chance points, 13-10.
  • North Carolina’s front court continues to be one of the best in the country right now on the offensive end. Brice Johnson, despite playing with some kind of bug (the same one that kept Joel Berry out), scored 16 on just 10 shots. He’s becoming nearly unstoppable when he goes to put the ball in the basket. In his last nine games, he’s hit 59-97 shots, averaging 19 points per game in his last four. Just two weeks ago Kennedy Meeks was benched for Isaiah Hicks (since then he’s back in the starting lineup) and he’s responded well. He’s posting up with authority, using his wide body to protect his position, but also is running the floor great in transition. Since that benching, he’s made 22-31 from the floor, scoring 18 in his last two games.
  • While the Tar Heels didn’t beat Duke, J.P. Tokoto did manage to have his best game, scoring 20 points on a series of spectacular drives and finishes. That game seemed to give him the confidence rush that I only get through Heroin. Against Tech, he again looked like one of the best athletes in basketball. Hie scored 12, grabbing six boards, dishing out six assists. He also had the play of the game when he grabbed a defensive rebound and went coast-to-coast through the Yellow Jackets for a slam. For a brief moment, I saw a Carolina fan get out of his seat.

  • Georgia Tech has two big guys who play most of the minutes, Demarco Cox and Charles Mitchell. Both are big, both are experienced and both are good at getting into great position in the post. Yet, they combined for just 10 points on four buckets. That’s because they are both terrible finishers and have been all year long. Neither is a great athlete, so it’s not like they’re going to back their man down and slam it down with no mercy. Yet, they just have no touch, so the ball hits the rim like a punch in the face and more often than bounces out.
  • In the end, defense wins championships and that’s been lacking for North Carolina lately. Against the Yellow Jackets, the Tar Heels played their best defensive game since beating Clemson back in early January, producing a 88.7 defensive efficiency rating. That rating had been over 100 in their last seven games. They finished with five blocks, but that’s not surprising. They finished with eight steals, that is surprising. In fact, they eventually blew out Georgia Tech after forcing the Jackets into five turnovers on their first six possessions in the second half.

RANDOM QUICKIES

  • The Tar Heels got 24 points and 15 assists from their guards on Saturday. Getting production from the backcourt has been a big reason for their recent struggles. Marcus Paige had his best game in a long while, scoring 13, dishing out 10 assists (zero turnovers).
  • Okay Brad Brownell, let’s try something new and move sophomore Quinton Stephens into the starting lineup. With Chris Bolden gone, he’s the only person who can stretch the court and keep defenses honest with his three-point shooting.
  • North Carolina shot 62% from the field and 1.31 points per possession.
  • Props to Roy Williams for starting the game in the four corners as a tribute to Dean Smith, although it wasn’t quite as pretty with Georgia Tech playing zone.

Yet, it seems Williams was not too happy with the props from the fan base. Either the North Carolina faithful in the stands didn’t recognize what was going on, don’t know about one of Dean Smith’s greatest accomplishments or they simply weren’t that impress by it, Roy let his fan base have it post-game.

Sorry Coach, that’s criticism. That’s not even passive-aggressive, just straight up accusing the fans of sleeping. Let’s face it, this should not be a surprise. They’re known as a “wine & cheese” crowd for a reason. Don’t get me wrong, the Carolina faithful are as loyal and passionate as any other fans and there are many of them, but for whatever reason, that arena doesn’t present those fans a place to do let it all hang out. First, the student section is nowhere to be seen on TV. If you want kids to rock, put them on television. Secondly, I’ve been told that tickets are too expensive. If that’s truly the case, then yes, the kind of folks who pay a bundle for a college basketball game don’t stand all game against a foe like Georgia Tech.

LOOKING AHEAD: 
The win is just North Carolina’s second in the month of February, but they now sit at 19-8 overall, tied for fourth in the ACC at 9-5. Remember, earning a 4-seed means you get an extra bye-week. A 5-seed doesn’t get that. The Tar Heels have a tough final two weeks, beginning with a good one at home with NC State coming to town. The Yellow Jackets fall to 12-15, 3-12 in the ACC and have not won back-to-back games since mid-December. Next up, home against Louisville, so yeah, life doesn’t get any easier.

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