The pomp and circumstance for Roy Williams will have to wait.
On a night when the head coach could have passed Dean Smith in all-time wins, the UNC men's basketball team instead dropped its first game of the new year to Georgia Tech.
In a 96-83 loss, the Tar Heels (8-6, 1-2 ACC) never led, trailed at one point by 24 points and allowed the Yellow Jackets to shoot 59 percent from the field. Junior forward Garrison Brooks put up a valiant 35 points in defeat.
North Carolina came out flat to start— a flurry of mid-range bricks and turnovers were to blame. At the game’s first media timeout, Georgia Tech (7-7) led 10-2 and UNC hadn’t made a shot from the field.
The Tar Heels’ offense somehow got worse from there. By the time Williams finally called a timeout, right under the 12-minute mark, his team was losing by 17 points and had eight turnovers.
That reality check didn’t help. North Carolina’s deficit ballooned to an absurd 27-4 by the next break. And its shooting — 0-15 from the field — was equally horrific.
Brooks slowly worked against that torrid start with some post moves and perfect 8-8 free-throw shooting; the junior forward finished the first half with 14 points. North Carolina also made its last five shots to end the half — but Georgia Tech maintained a 47-27 lead.
UNC started the second half with a new energy, and it showed. Behind Brooks and timely contributions from Brandon Robinson and Justin Pierce, the Tar Heels cut their deficit to single digits for the first time since the game’s opening minutes.
From there, Georgia Tech’s dynamic duo of Jose Alvarado and forward Moses Wright heated up, often trading buckets with Brooks and Robinson in a free-flowing stretch of basketball. UNC flirted with a single-digit deficit over and over; each time, Georgia Tech had an answer.
At the 2:21 mark, Wright had an and-one layup, which pushed his team's lead to 90-76. Brooks, who'd committed the foul (his fifth and final), left the floor to a standing ovation, and the game's proverbial end had come.
Who stood out?
Brooks put up a career-high 35 points for UNC, along with 11 rebounds and 17-18 free-throw shooting. The junior played with an increasing confidence Saturday night, making decisive moves in the post and attempting an ambitious dunk early in the second half.
Alvarado and Wright were the Yellow Jackets’ offensive stalwarts. The former finished with 25 points, four 3-pointers and six steals; the latter with 22 points and seven rebounds. Georgia Tech also got good minutes from reserve big Evan Cole (nine points).
When was it decided?
With two free throws from Brooks, UNC cut its deficit to 52-43 at the 16:01 mark — and the Smith Center was roaring. Georgia Tech was on the brink of losing its momentum.
The Yellow Jackets responded with a tone-setting run that included two 3-pointers and an assist from Alvarado. That, along with some offensive rebounding, kept North Carolina at bay when Georgia Tech needed to most.
Why does it matter?
From a numbers perspective, Williams’ record-breaking 880th win was put on hold. He’ll remain tied with Smith, his longtime mentor, at fourth place on the NCAA’s all-time Division I wins list until Wednesday, at least.
From a basketball perspective, similar issues — turnovers, a lack of pure scorers, defensive lapses — plagued North Carolina in its first game of 2020. Its second-half offensive spurts were promising but ultimately too little and too late.
When do they play next?
UNC continues a four-game homestand when it plays Pittsburgh Wednesday night at 7 p.m. The Panthers are 10-4 and 1-2 in the ACC this season.
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