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The Daily Tar Heel

Georgia Tech, UNC get defensive in ACC tournament battle

GREENSBORO — As North Carolina’s leading scorer, center Chay Shegog very rarely stands alone in the paint.

On most days, teams have two or three defenders surrounding her in an attempt to keep her off the board.

But on Friday, Georgia Tech coach MaChelle Joseph decided to try something different.

“In watching the tapes, it was obvious that North Carolina was getting a lot of easy baskets playing off of Shegog,” Joseph said after her team’s 54-53 win against UNC in the ACC tournament quarterfinals.

“So what we decided to do was play her one-on-one and try to take away those weak-side easy baskets.”

For the most part, the tweak worked.

After scoring 90 points against Clemson the day before, UNC finished with 53. And Shegog — without the double team — finished with just nine.

Still, the Yellow Jackets didn’t fare much better than UNC did offensively. As it turned out, Joseph’s adjustment was just one move within a defensive chess game.

The Yellow Jackets connected on only two shots within the game’s first six minutes. And though they finished the half with a six-point lead, a renewed defensive effort by the Tar Heels in the final 20 minutes held them to a 34.6 percent shooting clip.

“I thought first of all we played hard,” UNC coach Sylvia Hatchell said. “We did some different things out there as far as with the screens, whether we would trap it, or we would show and recover.

“And then also on the shooters’ first half, we were letting them drive and kick. We didn’t do that in the second half. I think we made some adjustments with some things.”

But the Tar Heels sputtered offensively after a game-opening 10-2 run. UNC used its speed early to set up scoring opportunities, grabbing all seven of its fast-break points in the first half. But Georgia Tech’s press managed to slow the Tar Heels down.

“I think that’s first time we’ve seen Carolina run against us this year that way, so we were kind of caught off guard by it,” Joseph said. “But I feel like we recovered from that with defensive stops.”

As both teams tried to feel the other out defensively in the early going, there was some undeniable sloppiness. Georgia Tech and UNC combined for 26 turnovers in the first half alone.

But in the second half, they combined for just nine. North Carolina especially seemed better able to cope with the Yellow Jackets’ oppressive defense as the game wore on.

In spurts, the Tar Heels played like they did on Thursday, penetrating inside for easy buckets. After back-to-back timeouts at 11:08 mark — one official, the other taken by UNC — the Tar Heels surged ahead for the first time in the half, grabbing a 47-45 lead on a 9-2 run.

But in the end, the Tar Heels fell a few centimeters short as Brittany Rountree’s last-second 3-pointer bounced off the rim.

While that shot also bounced the Tar Heels from the tournament, the overall defensive struggle against the Yellow Jackets could serve as a valuable learning experience should the Tar Heels make it to the next level.

“I think playing Georgia Tech in this game will help us a lot because they’re physical,” senior guard She’la White said. “And also their defense against us, attacking their press, I think that will help us a lot more looking forward into the NCAA tournament.”

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