No. 20 Georgia Tech edges No. 12 UNC 73-71
CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (AP)—Georgia Tech overcame everything—a blown 20-point lead, the ear-ringing screams of North Carolina’s blue-clad crowd and a second-half scoring barrage from Will Graves—to prove it has plenty of fight to go with all that talent.
Now the defending national champions have to find the same kind of confidence.
Zachery Peacock made the go-ahead shot with 25.7 seconds left to rescue the 20th-ranked Yellow Jackets, who shook off that blown big lead and held off the 12th-ranked Tar Heels 73-71 on Saturday.
Iman Shumpert finished with a career-high 30 points to lead the Yellow Jackets (13-4, 2-2 Atlantic Coast Conference), who figured out a way to pull out a win after falling behind in the wild final minutes. Peacock managed just six points with one second-half field goal, but that shot in the lane rolled around the rim before dropping through to give Georgia Tech its first win in Chapel Hill since 1996.
“They made plays down the stretch,” Georgia Tech coach Paul Hewitt said of his team. “It wasn’t about Xs and Os.”
North Carolina’s comeback seemed perfectly tailored for the program’s storied history, but the Yellow Jackets regrouped and kept the pressure on the Tar Heels (12-6, 1-2), refusing to let the game slip away.
After Graves buried a 3-pointer to give North Carolina its first second-half lead at 64-63, Brian Oliver responded by knocking down an off-balance jumper from the right side. D’Andre Bell answered Marcus Ginyard’s hanging layup with a jumper of his own. Then, after freshman Travis Wear put the Tar Heels up 71-70 on a short hook shot with 41.4 seconds left, Peacock answered with what turned out to be the game-winner.
The teams traded the lead seven times in the final 4 1/2 minutes.
“I wasn’t surprised that they came back,” Shumpert said. “I was surprised that they got a lead on us. I knew they would make their run, so we just had to take the blow and come out and win the game.”
The game bore an eerie similarity to a matchup between the teams four years ago, when the Yellow Jackets led by 20 points at halftime before a freshman named Tyler Hansbrough led the Tar Heels back with a 40-point effort in the 82-75 victory. This time, Graves did his best to rally the Tar Heels by scoring 22 of his career-high 24 points after halftime, but missed a desperation 3-pointer at the final buzzer.
“It shows our toughness,” Peacock said. “To come into a tough environment like this and get a win, it just shows how tough we are. Our problem is being consistent, which we’re not too far away from.”
Shumpert had 17 points in the first half and finished 10 of 17 from the field with six assists in his best game since returning from knee surgery, while Gani Lawal added 12 points and 12 rebounds for Georgia Tech.
Still, there’s no escaping just how disastrous a loss this would have been for the Yellow Jackets, who ran out to a 29-9 lead and led by 16 points with about 12 minutes to play. They followed last weekend’s upset of Duke with a loss at Virginia—a team picked to finish near the bottom of the ACC—and squandering this one would have left a lingering sting.
Instead, the Tar Heels—who have lost two straight and three of four—are the ones questioning themselves.
“I’m not used to coaching (Kansas) Jayhawk basketball or Tar Heel basketball without any confidence,” coach Roy Williams said. “We put ourselves in this spot and we’ve got to figure out a way to dig out of it. We can go belly up, but I choose not to do that and I told them that in the locker room.”
They were coming off an 83-64 loss at Clemson on Wednesday night, the most lopsided defeat for the Tar Heels in seven seasons under Williams. In that game, the Tar Heels fell behind by double figures in the first 4 1/2 minutes and trailed 35-12 midway through the first half.
In a disturbingly similar opening, the Tar Heels fell behind by 10 points in the first 6 minutes Saturday and trailed 29-9 with 8:23 left before halftime.
“Point blank,” point guard Larry Drew II said, “we’ve got to come out and swing first instead of always being swung on first.”
Graves offered probably the only real highlight for the Tar Heels. After managing just two free throws in the first half, the junior had a burst of eight points in 2 minutes—including two 3-pointers—to help the Tar Heels close within 60-56. A few minutes later, he took a feed from Ginyard and knocked down the 3 for the 64-63 lead—a basket that sent the Smith Center crowd into an ear-ringing roar.
But after Peacock’s basket, Drew missed a layup and Georgia Tech got the rebound and managed to burn about 10 seconds off the clock before the Tar Heels were able to foul. Bell made 1 of 2 free throws with 3.4 seconds left, setting up Graves’ final miss on an inbounds play near midcourt after a timeout.
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