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The Daily Tar Heel

UNC stings Yellow Jackets in ACC opener

Lucas explodes for 23 first-half points

North Carolina guard Italee Lucas had only a few words to describe her 23-point first-half performance against Georgia Tech Wednesday.

"I was feeling pretty good," Lucas said. "I don't know. I guess I was just feeling it."

Then silence.

Teammate Cetera DeGraffenreid offered the necessary elaboration.

After all, the junior point guard knew that in the first half, she needed to find just one player on the court.

"It was amazing," DeGraffenreid said. "I knew where to throw the ball to every time. It was going to (Lucas)."

Lucas scored 23 of her 28 points in the first half to help the No. 7 Tar Heels open ACC play with an 89-78 win against No. 20 Georgia Tech (13-3, 0-1 ACC). With the victory, UNC improved to 13-1 and has won 15 of its last 16 ACC openers.

The junior helped ignite a 28-8 run to give UNC a 50-26 halftime lead. Lucas fell short of the career high she recorded against No. 19 Michigan State earlier this year – the Tar Heels' lone loss of the season – by one point.

With 9:50 remaining in the half, Lucas scored on two breakaway layups captained by DeGraffenreid on two consecutive possessions.

Georgia Tech called for a timeout with the score close at 26-21, but it did little to stave off a North Carolina run.

Lucas had only begun.

The guard continued her assault with a trey from the left wing, drawing a foul and recording the four-point play. On the next possession, Lucas launched another three from the right wing.

Just moments later, as if to showcase her versatile scoring ability, the junior crossed over a defender in the lane and delivered a hook shot.  

Within two minutes, Lucas had scored nine points. And in a span of five minutes, the Tar Heels had mounted a 24-point lead heading into the half.

Coach Sylvia Hatchell gave credit to UNC's transition game, which also helped North Carolina capitalize with 24 points off of the Yellow Jackets' 17 turnovers in the first half.

"I thought they got tired," Hatchell said. "We got our transition game going, and we were able to break their press. So I thought that's what made the difference."

Georgia Tech found more offensive and defensive success in the second half. After intermission, the Yellow Jackets applied more full court pressure and found their offensive rhythm, and they improved to shoot 47 percent from the field.

On the other hand, North Carolina suffered from defensive and offensive miscues. UNC finished with 23 turnovers and was outrebounded 34-48.

"Our defense just wasn't communicating," Hatchell said. "And Georgia Tech, they were making their shots. They were knocking them down."

Still, the Tar Heels managed to hold off the Yellow Jackets and notch a win before heading to face undefeated and No. 1 Connecticut on Saturday, a team that has a winning streak of 52 games.

"I think we're the only ones who think we might win this thing," Hatchell said.

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"It might as well start with us," Lucas added.

With that, the guard was asked one final time to elaborate on her evening's performance.

She offered another attempt at an explanation. And in doing so, proposed that sometimes words are unnecessary.

"I don't know what you want me to say," Lucas said with a laugh.

"A lot of our offense, we know where we are. We are able to go through our pays without calling anything. I think that's the big help. Knowing where each other are on the floor. Without having to say anything."

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