Georgia Tech came into this game as huge underdog against the seventh ranked Tar Heels, but led much of the game and was right in the game until the very final minutes. The Jackets led at half by three points, but eventually the superior North Carolina team was able to pull away.
Georgia Tech was led today by their star players. Marcus Georges-Hunt ended with 25 points on 6/9 shooting from the field. He ended with 15 free throws due to his ability to put himself in a position to draw the foul. His play in the first half was a major reason that UNC found themselves in foul trouble and had to sit some of their best players. Adam Smith poured in threes on his way to 20 points. In the first half, whenever it looked like the Tar Heels had taken the momentum, Smith had an answer. He was not as effective in the second half, but his strong offensive play allowed the Jackets to keep up with the high scoring Heels. Charles Mitchell spent much of the game in foul trouble, but still managed 14 points and 6 rebounds and was effective on both sides of the ball. Unfortunately, nobody else contributed much scoring. Nick Jacobs was 3/9 from the field for 6 points. The entire bench was just 3/15 on field goals and didn't even reach double digits scoring. The best players for the Jackets really stepped it up this game, but the supporting cast didn't add quite enough to push them over the top.
The Tar Heels ended up with six players in double digits. Over the course of the game, they had very little trouble scoring and were achieving success both inside and on the perimeter. The only area where they did not have success was their shooting from deep, making only 2 three pointers all game. The Tar Heels really excelled at getting the Yellow Jacket big men out of position on defense and getting the entry pass to a wide open post player. Joel James, who came into the game averaging just 2 ppg, was the recipient of several of these plays and ended up with 11 points. Star player Brice Johnson spent the game in foul trouble, but was still able to put 15 points on the Jackets. A major problem for Georgia Tech all year has been weak perimeter defense. North Carolina's guards were just too good for the Jackets defense with guards Joel Berry and Marcus Paige combining for 42 points.
During this game, some major differences showed up between the two teams. The first is quality depth. The Yellow Jackets had nine players play double digit minutes but were still carried by three players for the majority of the game. The Tar Heels only played seven players 10 minutes or more and all of them had a major impact on the game. I expected Brian Gregory to trim down the rotation a little bit as the season wore on, but he is still playing a 10 deep rotation. Both drew plenty of fouls and got to the line plenty, but it was how they did it that was interesting. UNC had all 8 of their players take at least 2 free throws. Every player on their team was an offensive threat on some level and forced Georgia Tech to foul them. On the other hand, only two Georgia Tech players made it to the line with Marcus Georges-Hunt taking 15 of the Jackets 19 free throws (Ben Lammers took the other four). Georgia Tech relies on MGH to be their only perimeter creator. If none of the other perimeter players drive, they are not going to pick up fouls. Even our inside scorers, Mitchell and Jacobs, do not pick up many fouls. Their offensive game relies largely on hook shots and fade aways instead of taking the ball to the hoop and forcing contact.
The other major difference was the guard play. Joel Berry and Marcus Paige are both studs and Berry in particular played a fantastic game for UNC. On Georgia Tech's side, Adam Smith had a fantastic game, but he was the only guard that made a positive impact on the game. Heath made a couple nice plays, but still lacks any scoring threat. Jorgenson didn't score at all this game, but he did get 5 assists. Both of the point guards had trouble with the heavy pressure that UNC showed at some points in the game, and neither played particularly well defensively. Tadric Jackson only got a couple of minutes because the Jackets needed Adam Smith on the floor. Jackson has the talent to play more, but his decision making is weak, leading to unnecessary fouls and inefficient shooting. With the point guards struggling, Jackson has a chance to earn more playing time with Smith at the point, but he has not been able to take advantage of his minutes. He showed his ability against Georgia by going 5/11 for 14 points and controlling a part of the game, but in the four games since then he has just 7 points total (0/2 today). One of these guards needs to step up.
All in all, this was a pretty strong game for the Yellow Jackets. They hung with one of the best teams in the country on their own floor. Last year, the team would hang with great teams, but be unable to win in easier games. If the Jackets can keep up the level of play they showed today, wins will start to come for them. Next, they head up to Pittsburgh (who is ranked #25 in the coaches poll) on Wednesday at 7 PM before heading back to Atlanta for their conference home opener against #5 Virginia on Saturday at 2 PM.