Kendall Marshall started UNC’s 3-point barrage on the opening possession with a trey from the top of the key. Harrison Barnes and Reggie Bullock combined for three more 3-pointers over the next six minutes to help the Tar Heels build an 18-7 advantage.
Georgia Tech (8-13, 1-6 ACC) would creep back within nine points on two different occasions in the first half, but a late 10-2 spurt provided UNC (18-3, 5-1 ACC) with a 52-32 lead at the break.
A 7-2 run to open the second half allowed the Yellow Jackets to scratch back within 15, but North Carolina answered with an 8-0 spurt and managed to keep its lead around 20 points until a late 10-2 flurry by the Yellow Jackets.
Tyler Zeller scored 17 points for the Tar Heels and Bullock added 11 in his second start. John Henson contributed 13 points and moved past Sam Perkins into second place in UNC history (14th in ACC history) with four blocks. The junior now has 247 blocks in his career, good for a 2.6 blocks-per-game average.
Marshall had his ninth game with 10 or more assists (12). His 3.46:1 assist-to-turnover ratio this season currently ranks second in UNC single-season history (Ty Lawson, 3.49:1 in ‘09).
Mfon Udofia paced Georgia Tech with 16 points and Jason Morris added 15 points.
North Caroline shot 54.1 percent (33-of-61), while holding the Yellow Jackets to 45.6 percent shooting (31-of-68). UNC won the rebounding battle, 35-31.
INSIDE THE GAME
Barnes Continues Upward Trend
Barnes took the court in pink Air Jordan basketball shoes for the Coaches vs. Cancer weekend bonanza, but he emerged from the halftime break with his more comfortable – and Carolina blue – Kobe Bryant high-tops. Georgia Tech would have been better served if the Tar Heel sophomore kept the Jordans on, because not much else has slowed him down over the last five weeks.
Barnes’s 23 points marks the fifth time in nine games that he has eclipsed the 20-point plateau. During that stretch, Barnes is averaging 19.4 points per contest and has converted 52.5 percent of his field goals (64-of-122) and 40.7 percent of his 3-pointers (11-of-27). He’s also pulling down 4.8 rebounds per game.
“Experience is definitely playing a big role,” Barnes told reporters during his postgame interview. “Just knowing when to get shots and not trying to force too much. Just let the game come to you. It’s not necessarily about getting the loud points, but getting quiet buckets.”
There’s still plenty of room for improvement – Barnes has just one assist against 10 turnovers in his last four games – but he’s emerging as the dominant scorer that many thought he could be prior to the start of the season.
North Carolina relied on sharp shooting from Barnes, Bullock and P.J. Hairston to connect on 44.4 percent of its 3-pointers (48-of-108) through the first eight games of the season, but the Tar Heels were only shooting 29.6 percent (55-of-186) in the 12 games leading up to Sunday night’s tilt.
UNC ranked 12th through five games in ACC play with a 24.7 shooting percentage from 3-point territory.
That trend reversed, at least for one game, against the Yellow Jackets. North Carolina knocked down eight of its first 11 3-pointers en route to a season-high 62.5 shooting percentage from long range (10-of-16). Five different Tar Heels drilled a trey for the first time since the fourth game of the season against Tennessee State.
“We’re good shooters,” UNC head coach Roy Williams told reporters during his postgame press conference. “We really are. We make a bunch of them in practice all of the time. I’ve said the whole time that I thought that, I believed that, and when we started making them, it would make things even a lot prettier.”
Georgia Tech head coach Brian Gregory provided his explanation for UNC’s ability to find success from deep.
“They do have some good shooters, obviously,” Gregory said. “The thing is we did a poor job in our transition coverage because I bet their shooting percentage in the halfcourt was pretty respectable for us. But you get to 10-of-16 and they probably hit six or seven of those threes in the open court because our guys back have to hold the rim because their bigs are running. Our bigs aren’t and now they get the three.”
Hairston Fighting Out of Slump
Slumps come and go in college basketball, especially for freshmen, but the key to battling out of one is to use any means necessary. For P.J. Hairston, the preferred method of choice has been defensive effort.
“You’re going to have slumps, but the thing is to play through it,” Hairston said. “That’s what I did and tried to find different ways to contribute to the team.”
The freshman guard entered Sunday’s game averaging 4.6 points on 24.1 percent shooting (7-of-29), including a 16.7 percent effort (4-of-24) from long range. Against Georgia Tech, Hairston made his presence felt his a series of defensive plays.
During a battle for a rebound under Tech’s basket early in the game, Hairston ended up taking possession and throwing the ball off a Yellow Jacket. Several minutes later, he stepped in and drew a charge from Julian Royal in transition.
Hairston also blocked 6-foot-11 center Daniel Miller’s lay-up in transition and continued his strong play into the final minutes, landing several rows deep in the risers while chasing a loose ball.
“I wanted to go defense first and do the little things to make my offense come,” Hairston said. “I know on one possession I got a block and ran down the court and got a three, so a lot of things you do on defense can result in good things on offense.”
Hairston’s stat line consisted of eight points, two rebounds, two assists, two steals, a block and a turnover in 17 minutes. And while he hasn’t worked himself out of his slump quite yet – he was 2-of-6 (2-of-4 on 3-pointers) for the night – there’s no question he’s adopted the correct approach in battling back.