For the second straight game, No. 24 North Carolina couldn’t escape from a flat first-half performance.
Just like in the opening minutes of its sloppy loss to Clemson, UNC provided little resistance on the defensive and offensive ends in its 73-71 loss to No. 19 Georgia Tech (13-4, 2-2 ACC). The Yellow Jackets built up a 20-point lead before twelve minutes had elapsed on the game clock.
“We were so tentative and tight early on it was unbelievable,” UNC coach Roy Williams said. “I tried to give them confidence, and that’s hard to do, but it was unusual basketball playing for us in the first half.”
The Tar Heels (12-6, 1-2) did rally from the deficit — even notching a two-point lead in the game’s final minutes. But the comeback attempt crumbled when Georgia Tech’s Zachery Peacock rattled in a go-ahead shot with 28 seconds left to put his team up 72-71.
UNC point guard Larry Drew II missed a driving, off-balance layup on the other end, and forward Travis Wear’s attempted tip-in bounced squarely off the front of the rim.
“We came down, and Larry had a contested layup and a tip,” Williams said. “We would have liked to have gotten a better one, there’s no question about that.”
Ga. Tech’s Brian Oliver secured the rebound after Wear’s miss, and the Yellow Jackets managed to pass it around for nearly 10 seconds before Drew finally could track down a player to foul to stop the clock with 3.4 seconds left.
That didn’t give enough time for UNC to create a quality shot in the final seconds, as a desperate 40-foot attempt by Will Graves didn’t come close to its intended target.
The loss spoiled the highest scoring output of Graves’ career. The redshirt junior erupted for 24 points to lead UNC, but he was upstaged by Georgia Tech guard Iman Shumpert, who put up a career-high himself.
Shumpert continued UNC’s defensive struggles against slashing perimeter players as he poured in 30 points to pace the Yellow Jackets.
Nothing could slow down the sophomore Saturday afternoon, whether it be a UNC defender or his lingering knee injury that arthroscopic knee surgery in December tried to rectify.
Shumpert scored in double figures in both halves, registering 17 before intermission.
“He’s getting healthy. The knee injury robbed him of some flow, if you will. He wasn’t really playing fluid basketball,” Ga. Tech coach Paul Hewitt said. “I probably played him more than I wanted, but we needed all 36 minutes to get the win.”
Shumpert shot 10-for-17 from the floor and was 3-for-5 from behind the arc. He also earned nine attempts at the free throw line, making seven.
But for all of Shumpert’s points, a key UNC mistake down the stretch opened the door for Peacock’s game-winner.
With UNC up one with just more than a minute remaining, Drew couldn’t get open on an in-bounds pass and the ball instead was thrown to forward Ed Davis.
Davis was immediately double teamed, and he couldn’t find an open teammate before being tied up for a jump ball.
The Yellow Jackets scored the next possession to regain the lead.
“I didn’t go backcourt, and that was something I should have done,” Drew said. “That probably would have freed up Ed a little bit more.
“I stayed in the halfcourt and kind of clogged things up.”
The loss drops UNC to the cellar of the conference standings, and brings more questions on the team’s motivation after yet another slow start.
“The loss hurts, but I don’t think we should hang our heads,” Graves said. “We should look at the second half and punch ourselves in the mouth. Not literally, just take it as this is how we should play.”
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