But for the most part, it was routine.
Marcus Paige likes routine.
“Our mojo’s been all over the place since ACC play,” he said. “We thought we had it, and then we went through a rough stretch ... but I think we’re really confident right now.”
And after Tuesday night, why wouldn’t they be?
It would be unfair to say the Yellow Jackets gave the game away, but they came pretty close. They did all they could to hinder their own cause with 11 turnovers in the first half and 18 on the night.
Though Georgia Tech was playing in front of what seemed to be a Tar Heel crowd in Atlanta, it wasn’t nerves that led to those numbers.
North Carolina had added a few new moves to its defense. The Tar Heels used different rotations inside, doubled the post on the catch instead of the bounce and added more scrambles than usual, Paige said.
He’s asked to elaborate on the scramble. It’s a designed half-court trap, he says.
“When the point guard brings the ball across the timeline, we have a trap we make off of the first pass he makes or a trap off whichever direction he decides to dribble,” Paige said.
As the two closest players initiate the double team, two more float close to the paint, channeling a linebacker, anticipating a hurried pass. The fifth player drops back.
Georgia Tech had five possessions in one 86-second span in the first half. Each one ended with a UNC steal. The Tar Heels added six points off of those and 25 points off turnovers in the game.
“I think that was the whole key to the game,” said Coach Roy Williams.
With 8:48 in the first half, UNC stretched its lead to 10 points. Georgia Tech could never again pull it within single digits.
Keeping the Yellow Jackets at bay allowed the Tar Heels to execute a different kind of routine: one they had just put back in practice the day before.
With just under three minutes left to play, Brice Johnson, Kennedy Meeks, Justin Jackson and Paige headed to the bench. They were replaced by Isaiah Hicks, Joel James, Theo Pinson and Stilman White.
Pinson hadn’t played since fracturing his foot against Wake Forest on Jan. 21. White had been out since Dec. 27 against Alabama-Birmingham. They would be joined by senior Luke Davis, who had been sidelined all season due to injury.
“We talked a lot about our depth early in the year,” Paige said. “And it took a hit.”
For a change, UNC’s depth was the one throwing the punches against a stricken squad in Georgia Tech.
“That was at least, if not the biggest, one of the biggest parts of the game,” Williams said. “They just ran out of personnel.”
That was not a problem for the Tar Heels, when 15 of them took the court.
“It’s a lot of fun,” Berry said. “Especially when we’re up like that.”