In its first home game in nearly three weeks, the North Carolina Tar Heels (6-4, 1-1 ACC) defeated the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets (6-4, 0-1 ACC), 75-59, Saturday night at the Dean E. Smith Center.
Senior forward Armando Bacot returned to North Carolina’s starting lineup after missing UNC’s previous contest due to injury. The preseason All-American’s presence was felt from the jump, as his efforts on the glass and two-handed dunk helped the Tar Heels jump out to an early four-point lead.
North Carolina continued to push the pace and found success in transition. On back-to-back possessions, junior guard RJ Davis capitalized on the break highlighted by his spin move layup which forced the Yellow Jackets to call their second timeout.
After hanging around for much of the first period, Georgia Tech eventually found itself with the lead. With 5:12 remaining in the first half, senior guard Lance Terry’s wing 3-pointer gave the Yellow Jackets the lead, 24-23.
But the visitors’ advantage was short lived, as Davis responded with a three-point make of his own — UNC’s first make from distance of the game. Over the final five minutes of the first half, North Carolina would go on a 16-2 run, capped off by first-year Seth Trimble threading the needle to find Davis for a transition layup. At the break the Tar Heels held a sizable lead, 39-26.
Out of halftime, North Carolina continued to spread the ball around. Graduate forward Pete Nance found junior guard Caleb Love off an inbound play for an open 3-pointer. Moments later, Davis delivered a calculated feed to Bacot, who finished off the pass with a layup.
At the 4:33 mark, Caleb Love’s tomahawk hammer springboarded the Tar Heels to an 18-point lead. From there, North Carolina continued to exploit the Yellow Jackets on both ends of the court and cruised to a 75-59 win.
Who stood out?
Midway through the first half, Davis took over the reins as the lead ball handler for the Tar Heels. With the increased touches, the junior from White Plains, N.Y. displayed timely decision making in translation and was efficient from the mid range on his way to scoring a team-high 22 points and grabbing 10 rebounds.
In his return to North Carolina’s starting lineup, Bacot proved to be a difference maker. Though noticeably ginger with his injured shoulder, the preseason ACC Player of the Year muscled his way to 21 points and hauled in 13 boards.
When was it decided?
For much of the first half, the Tar Heels struggled to find rhythm on offense. But the spark provided by Trimble off the bench transformed the identity of North Carolina. In the final minutes of the first half, UNC thrived in transition in large part to the unselfish play of the first-year guard.
After jumping out for a 13-point lead before the break, UNC continued its selfless play in the second half. North Carolina’s half-court sets flowed with more fluidity, and the Tar Heels maintained a double-digit lead for the entire second half.
Why does it matter?
The win snaps North Carolina’s four-game losing skid.
Amid the Tar Heels’ early-season struggles, a number of deficiencies have shown within North Carolina’s play. But no problem may be more surprising than UNC’s lack of assists, as North Carolina entered Saturday’s contest in the bottom 10 percent nationally in assists per game.
In UNC’s second conference game of the season, North Carolina reverted back to the unselfish play many have come accustomed to seeing from Tar Heel teams. By the end of the game, North Carolina recorded 15 assists as a team.
When do they play next?
The Tar Heels continue their home stand against The Citadel on Tuesday. The non-conference contest is set to tipoff at 7 p.m.
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