In a game of two halves, the Yellow Jackets shot out to a 29-9 lead before taking a 42-28 lead into halftime. Georgia Tech (13-4, 2-2 ACC) attempted 42 field goals compared to North Carolina’s 24 in the first half, thanks in large part to 10 offensive rebounds and 11 UNC turnovers.
Paul Hewitt’s squad held a 50-31 lead with 18:25 to play before Graves ignited North Carolina’s 33-13 spurt that spanned 14 minutes. There were six lead changes in the final 4:24, starting with Graves’ 3-pointer to give UNC (12-6, 1-2 ACC) a 64-63 advantage.
The Yellow Jackets had the final word, however, with Peacock’s pull-up in the lane. D’Andre Bell ended the scoring with a free throw with 3.4 seconds left on the clock.
Graves (seven rebounds, three assists) attempted a game-winning 3-pointer from nearly 40 feet as time expired.
Deon Thompson (seven rebounds) and Ed Davis (eight rebounds) both added 12 points for North Carolina, while Iman Shumpert paced Georgia Tech with 30 points on 10-of-17 shooting.
The Yellow Jackets connected on 43.1 percent (28-of-65) of their field goal attempts, compared to North Carolina’s 37.9 percent (22-of-58). UNC did win the rebounding battle, 41-36.
INSIDE THE GAME
This Spot Reserved for Run Talk
With the way the 2009-10 season is unfolding, there is serious consideration in giving opposing teams and their runs a daily segment in this Instant Analysis column. And why not? There has been plenty of talk about 25-3 (Syracuse), 28-2 (Kentucky) and 26-6 (Clemson). What’s wrong with giving Albany and its 23-2 spurt or Rutgers’ 23-10 run a little publicity?
While talks are still underway, let’s focus on Saturday’s edition – Georgia Tech’s 26-5 opening blitz. During that 9-minute, 42-second stanza, North Carolina missed nine of its 10 field goal attempts, committed 10 turnovers and allowed the Yellow Jackets to connect on 11 of their 24 field goal attempts.
You read that correctly – Georgia Tech shot 45.8 percent during that stretch and still made more shots (11) than the Tar Heels attempted (10). The result was a 29-9 lead with 8:28 remaining in the first half.
To make matters worse, UNC point guard Larry Drew was often out of control, turning the ball over four times during that initial Georgia Tech spurt. You could legitimately make the case that Saturday’s 10-minute upheaval delivered the worst stretch of North Carolina basketball that we’ve seen this season.
“We were so tentative and so tight early it was unbelievable,” head coach Roy Williams told reporters during his postgame press conference. “That’s what happens when you lose a game and get a little shook. You try to give them confidence and it’s hard to do.”
No offense to the aforementioned Great Danes or Scarlet Knights, but those are the types of teams where the Tar Heels can mingle with fans in the crowd at various intervals while the clock is running and still manage to win.
Try that approach against an ACC-caliber opponent and you end up with a losing record like North Carolina currently owns in league play.
Graves Steps Up
Red-shirt junior Will Graves has displayed glimpses of energy and potential all season long, beginning with his eight-point burst in opening five minutes against Syracuse. But the wing forward has struggled to deliver that level of play for a full 40 minutes.
If Saturday afternoon was any kind of indication, the effervescent Greensboro, N.C. native is making serious strides towards that end goal.
Graves scored 22 of his career-high 24 points in the second half to lead North Carolina’s comeback. After missing his first three shots after halftime, the junior hit six of his next nine field goal attempts, including a 5-of-7 mark from 3-point range.
The 6-foot-6, 250-pounder knocked down a 3-pointer and grabbed three rebounds – two offensive – in an 8-0 UNC run to cut Georgia Tech’s lead to 52-44. Freshman John Henson then subbed in for Graves and the Yellow Jackets promptly issued an 8-0 run of their own. The junior reentered the game and scored eight points on three baskets in a two-minute span to help North Carolina produce a 12-0 run, cutting the deficit to 60-56.
Graves delivered a rain-maker from the left wing to give the Tar Heels their first lead in 34 minutes at 64-63 with 4:33 left in regulation.
“I told Will that was big time for him in the second half,” Williams said. “I’m very proud of him. I’ve been on his case for years and deservedly so. I said it like that as well, and he understands it. He was so competitive and making shots, too. I loved his competitiveness.”
Graves missed a desperation 3-pointer from just inside the midcourt circle as the buzzer sounded, but there was little doubt by the 20,704 in attendance that he was the reason North Carolina even had a chance at the end.
“I was just trying to give it my all,” Graves said. “It could have been anybody out there making those shots. It just needed to be somebody knocking them down. My confidence is up as an individual, but I’d rather have the win.”
Conflicting Levels of Confidence
The mainstream media has finally picked up on the confidence issues surrounding this Tar Heel squad, prompting an inundation of questions to Williams and his players about the situation at hand. Those various inquiries brought about various opinions as to what is taking place within the program.
UNC’s Hall of Fame coach has indicated in recent weeks that his team is struggling with confidence and he stayed on course with that message on Saturday.
“I’m not used to coaching Jayhawk basketball or Tar Heel basketball or bitty-league basketball without any confidence,” Williams said. “But we’ve put ourselves in this spot and we’ve got to figure out a way to dig out of it.”
But Graves suggested that overconfidence could actually be part of the problem.
“Honestly, I just feel like it’s lackadaisicalness,” Graves said. “We’re just too lax on the court. We’re not aggressive. We’re not showing a sense of urgency. I feel like we’re all good players and it’s only a matter of time, but it’s not going to happen until you show enthusiasm and give great effort.”
Fifth-year senior Marcus Ginyard was also asked about his thoughts on the matter.
“I don’t know,” Ginyard said. “I don’t know where we are in that regard, whether it’s guys not confident enough, or like Will said, guys are too confident. Really the bottom line is that we’ve got to find a way to get somewhere where you can get the job done…
“Just another day of soul searching, you know?”