UNC’s best defense of the season fuels impressive win at Georgia Tech

By R.L. Bynum

The worries about Coach Hubert Davis’ first team of two weeks ago seemed like a distant memory Sunday afternoon in Atlanta.

Much like when Leaky Black is closing out on a shooter, people can’t take any shots at this North Carolina team anymore.

The Tar Heels (6–2, 1–0 ACC) followed up an impressive victory against Michigan with an easy 79–62 win at Georgia Tech (5–3, 0–1) in their ACC opener and they look like a team that deserves to be ranked.

Defense was big again for Carolina in stopping the best player on the opposing team. Michael Devoe was the leading scorer in the country before Sunday with four games of at least 26 points, but was held to 13. Devoe had the nation’s best 3-point-shooting percentage and led the ACC in 3s per game before Sunday but went 1 of 5 from 3-point range.

“I just thought we were really good defensively, with the exception of like a seven-minute stretch in the first half,” said Coach Hubert Davis, who joined Frank McGuire, Dean Smith, Bill Guthridge and Matt Doherty in winning his ACC road debut as head coach. “I thought we guarded better than we’ve guarded all season.”

Black and Anthony Harris both did a good job frustrating Devoe and taking him out of his rhythm.

“It’s gonna be hard to find somebody in a country that’s defending better than Leaky, and Ant Harris was somebody that didn’t get into the game on Wednesday against Michigan and when his number was called, he was fantastic in his 14 minutes defensively,” Coach Davis said. “I was just so proud of the team — the toughness and the grit, the will and the want-to.”

It wasn’t easy, particularly when that first-half stretch allowed the Jackets to take a nine-point lead. But the Tar Heels turned up the defensive heat in the second half to take control.

RJ Davis led four Tar Heels to score in double figures with 23, 13 in the second half. Caleb Love added 17 and Armando Bacot and Brady Manek each scored 15. Bacot also pulled down 13 rebounds.

Carolina set season-highs with 54.6% shooting from the floor, 58.8% shooting from 3-point range and 21 assists. UNC had its best shooting half of the season at 65.5% in the second half.

UNC got four 3-pointers from Davis and three each from Love and Manek. Many of those shots from Davis and Love would have been good for 3 points in the NBA. Manek now has 252 career 3-pointers.

The 62 points were the Yellow Jackets’ second-fewest this season.

“Georgia Tech is a very difficult team to defend because they have unbelievable skilled players and the movement in their offense,” Davis said. “It makes it hard to stay with players because you’ve got to see man and ball at all times and you’ve got to stay disciplined and focused. I just thought we were really good defensively in the second half. We were fantastic.”

The players and the coaches were right there along with the fans in being frustrated with the result of the Tennessee game and the bad turn the season made in Uncasville, Conn. Coach Davis said the team was disappointed and upset in the locker room.

But, after an uneven victory over UNC Asheville, he was thankful for eight consecutive days of practice and the chance to fix the Tar Heels’ issues.

“Sometimes you play in so many games, you’re in game mode,” Hubert Davis said. “But where you get better is in practice. From that UNC Asheville game to Michigan, we had eight days off. We had an opportunity just to reinforce our foundation and build principles that we had talked about all summer and all preseason and we were able to get back to our foundation.”

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UNC jumped out to a 12–2 lead with the help of two Love 3-pointers, but two consecutive Jackets 3-pointers trimmed the edge to 12–10.

The Jackets went on an 11–2 run to take a 21–13 lead on a Deivon Smith jumper with 9:20 left in the first half. Tech led by as many as nine points before UNC finished the first half with a 10–4 run, sparked by seven RJ Davis points, to tie it at 31 by halftime.

UNC took control with a 12–0 run early in the second half, with six points from Bacot.

Coach Davis said that the experience of playing in a hostile environment at College of Charleston and winning helped Sunday in the McCamish Pavilion.

He said that the Charleston win “gave us confidence and really gave us life to come here. This is a very tough place to play against a really, really good team. And I think our experience of playing on the road, we drew from that and it gave us confidence to be able to play well in the second half but to be able to win here at Georgia Tech.”

With final exams continuing this week, the Tar Heels get six days off before facing Elon at 8 p.m. Saturday (ACC Network).

The Phoenix fell to 2–7 after losing Saturday night to High Point 83–77 for their sixth consecutive defeat. Elon’s wins have come against Randolph College (107–62) and Bluefield (89–72. It has losses against Power 5 conference teams Florida (74–62), West Virginia (87–68) and Mississippi (74–56).

UNC 79, Georgia Tech 62

UNC season statistics

DateScore, record/day, time, TVLocationOpponent
November (4–2)
583–55 exhibition winHomeElizabeth City State
983–67 win, 1–0HomeLoyola Maryland
1294–87 win, 2–0HomeBrown
1694–83 win, 3–0RoadCollege of Charleston
2093–84 loss, 3–1Uncasville, Conn.Y — No. 2 Purdue
2189–72 loss, 3–2Uncasville, Conn.Y — No. 13 Tennessee
2372–53 win, 4–2HomeUNC Asheville
December (2–0)
172–51 win, 5–2HomeX — No. 24 Michigan
579–62 win, 6–2, 1-0 ACCRoadGeorgia Tech
11Saturday, 8, ACCNHomeElon
14Tuesday, 7, ESPN2HomeFurman
18Saturday, 3, CBSLas VegasZ — No. 5 UCLA
21Tuesday, 7, ACCNHomeAppalachian State
29Wednesday, 7, ESPN2HomeVirginia Tech
January
1Saturday, noon, ACCNRoadBoston College
5Wednesday, 9, ESPN2RoadNotre Dame
8Saturday, 1, ESPNHomeVirginia
15Saturday, 8, ACCNHomeGeorgia Tech
18Tuesday, TBA, ESPNRoadMiami
22Saturday, 8, ACCNRoadWake Forest
26Wednesday, RSNHomeBoston College
29Saturday, 2, ACCNHomeN.C. State
31Monday, 7, ESPNRoadLouisville
February
5Saturday, 6, ESPNHomeNo. 1 Duke
8Tuesday, 9, ESPN or ESPN2RoadClemson
12Saturday, 2, ESPN or ESPN2HomeFlorida State
16Wednesday, 8, ACCNHomePittsburgh
19Saturday, 4, ESPN or ESPN2RoadVirginia Tech
21Monday, 7, ESPNHomeLouisville
26Saturday, 2 or 4, ESPN or ESPN2RoadN.C. State
28Monday, 7, ESPNHomeSyracuse
March
5Saturday, 6, ESPNRoadNo. 1 Duke
8–
12
ACC TournamentBrooklyn
RSN — regional sports networks; ACCN — ACC Network; X — ACC/Big Ten Challenge;
Y — Basketball Hall of Fame Tip-Off; Z — CBS Sports Classic

Photo via @UNC_Basketball

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