Georgia Tech (20-11) jumped out to a quick 13-7 lead before UNC (16-16) answered with a 17-0 spurt in building a 24-13 margin. That lead eventually grew to 28-15 and the Tar Heels eventually carried a 34-24 advantage into halftime.
The Yellow Jackets responded quickly after intermission, scoring the first seven points en route to a 15-4 run that delivered a 39-38 lead with 16:24 remaining. North Carolina's Will Graves hit a lay-up with 5:13 left in regulation to knot the score at 56, but Georgia Tech secured the victory in tallying the next five points.
Derrick Favors led the Yellow Jackets with 18 points, nine rebounds and five blocks, while Gani Lawal added 12 points and four rebounds. Tyler Zeller posted his first career double-double with 17 points and 10 rebounds, and Deon Thompson contributed 10 points and eight rebounds.
Georgia Tech connected on 42.9 percent (24-of-56) of its field goal attempts, while North Carolina shot 33.3 percent (23-of-69) from the floor. The Tar Heels outrebounded the Yellow Jackets, 46-37, including a 21-11 margin on the offensive glass.
Georgia Tech beat North Carolina for the third time this season, marking only the third time that a team has managed that feat in the last 35 years.
INSIDE THE GAME
First Half Reversal
In the first two meetings between these programs, the outcome was essentially finalized when the players trotted off the court for halftime.
In Georgia Tech's 73-71 victory on Jan. 16, the Yellow Jackets thumped UNC with a 26-5 blitz that included 10 Tar Heel turnovers. Exactly one month later, North Carolina endured a 24-5 spurt in the first half of a 68-51 loss, thanks to eight turnovers and a 2-of-17 shooting display.
In both games, Georgia Tech possessed a 20-point lead before halftime. But North Carolina attempted to return the favor on Thursday night, using a 21-2 spurt to build a 28-15 advantage.
"I think that before this game we just had a different mindset," Marcus Ginyard told reporters during his postgame press conference. "We knew that we could beat this team. We felt like we had given them a couple of games and I felt like we were just a little more confident out in the first half in the things that we were doing."
North Carolina held Georgia Tech scoreless for seven minutes and 11 seconds before a Favors' dunk ended the scoring drought. The Yellow Jackets missed 11 of their 12 field goal attempts and committed five turnovers during the 21-2 run.
"In the first half, we did a great job of taking away what they wanted to do on the offensive end," Thompson said.
North Carolina's 17-0 run in the first half marked its second-best unanswered scoring stretch of the season. The Tar Heels had a 19-0 spurt in the 89-42 pasting of N.C. Central on Nov. 11, a game so far removed that UNC was ranked fourth in the country at the time.
Collapse Down the Stretch
When Graves connected on his lay-up with 5:13 remaining to tie the game at 56, it appeared as though North Carolina was not going to go quietly into the Greensboro night. But try as they may, the Tar Heels' inability to put points on the scoreboard proved to be their downfall.
During its final nine possessions, UNC failed to convert a field goal in missing eight attempts and committed two turnovers. Ginyard's two free throws with 47 seconds were the only points that the Tar Heels could manage.
"[We were] not really executing, not really taking care of the ball the way we needed to, and just allowing them to take better shots than they were allowing us to take," Ginyard said in describing the late-game demise.
The Yellow Jackets weren't much better, but they capitalized on two Larry Drew turnovers and a Favors block to score five points and take control of the game with a 61-56 lead with 1:28 remaining.
"Down the stretch, we tried to stay in front of the guys and tried to make sure it was only one shot," UNC head coach Roy Williams said. "They seemed to make their shots and we missed ours on the other end."
There has been some unfounded speculation that North Carolina would reject a N.I.T. bid if an offer was extended, but Williams set the record straight during his postgame press conference.
"If somebody's going to invite me to play, I want to go play," Williams said. "Period. The end. Are we worthy enough to be invited? That I don't know."
The players fell in line with their coach's beliefs on the topic of conversation.
"If we go to the N.I.T. – if we're fortunate enough for them to invite us – we'll definitely take that and go with that," Thompson said. "Coach is not going to allow anybody on this team to just give up and not play. If we are lucky enough to get invited, we'll definitely prepare to go and try to win it."
While North Carolina would likely turn down invitations to the CBI or College Insider postseason tournaments, an invitation to the N.I.T. is not a foregone conclusion. All regular season conference champions that do not win their conference tournaments are automatically qualified for the 32-team field. Eight lower-level conference programs, including Troy, Weber St., Coastal Carolina and Quinnipiac, are already assured invitations after losing in their league tournaments.
The N.I.T. has taken just one 16-win squad in each of the past two seasons. Opening round play takes place on Tuesday, Mar. 16, and Wednesday, Mar. 17.