On Nov. 16, the Tar Heels took command in the second half at Long Beach State with a 17-2 run to build a 59-45 advantage. Roughly two months later, UNC outscored Florida State 8-0 over the final 4:16 to pick up its first ACC road win.
The Tar Heels were having a difficult time dispatching the Yellow Jackets at the McCamish Pavilion in a city where the boys in blue had lost six of their last seven. Georgia Tech had trailed by six or more points six different times during an 11-minute stretch.
With 14:20 to play, Chris Bolden knocked down a jumper to pull his Yellow Jackets within 47-41. James Michael McAdoo missed a pair of free throws on the other end, gifting Georgia Tech an opportunity to close within four points.
What happened instead was a turnover near the free throw line that Dexter Strickland picked up and heaved ahead to a streaking Reggie Bullock for a transition layup.
That series of plays set in motion a 12-0 UNC run that soaked up six minutes and 54 seconds off the clock. By the time Georgia Tech scored again – on a Robert Carter 3-pointer – it trailed by 15 with 7:26 left to play.
There was an overarching theme in talking about the run with the Tar Heels in the postgame locker room – transition and defense.
“We really started pushing the ball a little bit better; a couple of long rebounds, a couple of steals helped us get out in transition,” Marcus Paige said. “We didn’t take bad shots in that stretch. Leslie came off a great screen and got a wide-open three. We didn’t force anything, so that helped a lot.
“And then also we were a little bit more on the defensive end. They missed a couple of shots and that always helps.”
McAdoo offered a near-carbon copy response when asked the same question.
“I think it just came down to getting out and running,” McAdoo said. “It came with defending and making them miss shots. That’s what we really knew we had to do. They knocked down a few 3-point balls that we should have defended a little better towards the end of the game, but during that stretch, I felt like we were able to do a good job of that.”
Georgia Tech missed 12 field goal attempts during its drought, including 11 jumpers and seven 3-pointers. The Yellow Jackets also committed four turnovers during the stretch of 13 possessions.
UNC scored four points off those turnovers and took advantage of long rebounds to start its fast break.
“Better defense led to offense,” Bullock said when asked to detail what led to the spurt. “Getting out in transition, running, knocking down shots when you’re open. Not taking crazy shots when you’re contested by two players. Just more sharing the ball and moving without the ball.”
Georgia Tech freshman forward Marcus Georges-Hunt told reporters that his teammates were getting the shots they want, but those shots just weren’t falling. Combine that with the Yellow Jackets inability to get back on defense made the cold streak that much worse.
“Give North Carolina credit, they took control of the game at about the 12-minute mark in the second half,” Georgia Tech head coach Brian Gregory said. “They took advantage of some turnovers and some missed shots to get some transition baskets.”
UNC has struggled to score in bunches for most of the season and consecutive defensive stops haven’t been abundant, either. The Tar Heels did both on Tuesday and prevented a tight ball game in the closing minutes against a team whose previous six contests had been decided by a combined 25 points.