The fans who braved the ice to attend Wednesday night’s Georgia Tech-North Carolina game at McCamish Pavilion got what they wanted. The many Tar Heels fans in attendance, that is.
With the metro Atlanta ice storm as a backdrop for the game, the Tar Heels held off the Yellow Jackets 78-65, saddling Tech with its fourth loss in its past five games.
“There were some things we did well (Wednesday), but when you play a team like that, you have to do a lot of things well,” coach Brian Gregory said.
North Carolina (13-7 overall, 3-4 ACC) wore down Tech in the second half, making 16 of its 24 field-goal attempts in the final 20 minutes to break open a game that it led by one point at halftime. Tar Heels guard Marcus Paige slammed Tech for 17 of his 19 points in the second half. Paige made all eight of his shots – six from the field, including three 3-pointers, and two free throws – in the second half.
Further, Tech (11-10, 2-6) could only respond with 40.6 percent shooting in the second half and was outrebounded 20-12 in the half. Tech guard Trae Golden hit a 3-pointer at the 15:17 mark to cut the lead to two, but Paige answered with his own 3-pointer to trigger a 7-0 burst for a 43-34 lead. After that, the Tar Heels never led by less than six.
“I think we had a lot of 50-50 plays that didn’t bounce our way or we didn’t have enough grit or toughness to get them,” Golden said. “It hurts you, especially in conference play.”
The Tar Heels left Atlanta with their own gridlock story to tell, having flown into Atlanta at 11 p.m. Tuesday night and getting to their hotel via MARTA after 1 a.m. It was an unusual night all around in that regard. Tech could only provide about half of the typical staffing for the game due to the icy conditions hampering commutes. ESPN canceled its broadcast out of safety concerns for its crew.
“It was a tough situation in Atlanta,” North Carolina coach Roy Williams said. “I would not have said one thing about that if we had lost because we were so much more fortunate than all those other people out there.”
The game was played due to ACC policy regarding weather-impacted games, which dictates that a game is to be played if both teams and officials are able to make it safely to a game.
“I promised myself I wouldn’t comment on the absurdity of playing this game, so I’m not going to,” Gregory said.
Tech gave a solid effort, but again had its trouble on the interior. In the first half, Tech limited North Carolina to 12-for-39 shooting, but the Tar Heels took 16 more shots than the Jackets on the strength of 10 offensive rebounds to one for Tech (as well as four turnovers compared to eight for Tech) and led 26-25. The chance to grab an early lead and try to hold on was lost at that point.
In the second half, UNC big men Kennedy Meeks and James Michael McAdoo gained control, scoring 15 combined points and also limiting Tech big men Daniel Miller and Kammeon Holsey to a combined five points after halftime.
“I thought maybe in the second half, that was another key component – we didn’t shoot as well,” Gregory said. “We missed some shots at the basket that led to some breakouts.”
For the game, North Carolina outrebounded the Jackets 45-33. Tech’s horrendous free-throw shooting – 15-for-26 – likewise squandered opportunities.
Golden led Tech with 21 points, but shot 6-for-17 from the field, though he was 4-for-9 from 3-point range. Miller played a strong defensive game, blocking five shots, altering others and finishing with 12 points. Forward Jason Morris was bitten again by the injury bug, leaving the game in the first half with a right foot injury and not returning. Gregory had to use walk-on Brooks Doyle during the Jackets’ last-minute comeback try.
Gregory said that Morris, who has missed 12 games this season first recovering from a stress fracture in his left foot and later from a concussion suffered in a car accident, will have x-rays Thursday.
“Poor kid can’t catch a break,” Gregory said.
Many of the 5,124 fans in attendance chose not to heed the athletic department’s encouragement to stay home if they weren’t within walking distance or took MARTA .
“There was no way we were going to miss this game,” said Mary Jo Bryan, an Atlanta resident and UNC grad who came by MARTA with her son James, who received the tickets as a Christmas gift.
The staffing for the game was about half the usual amount, with several athletic department and campus staff unable to make it in to work Wednesday. Of those on hand, many actually stayed overnight at Tech Tuesday night, including Gregory’s assistant coaches. On-campus workers cleared walkways, streets and parking lots to prepare for the influx for the game.
While the game was a near sellout for the 8,600-seat arena, McCamish was infused by about 2,300 members of the Tech student body. It was more than twice their typical showing, a result of the name-brand opponent and the cancellation of classes for Thursday
“I want to thank all the fans that did come out in a way that showed their true colors in terms of battling Mother Nature and getting here, especially the students,” Gregory said. “They were unbelievable.”
Ticket holders for Wednesday’s game who did not attend the game will be credited face value for their tickets for any future Tech regular-season contest.