Georgia Tech has lost 8 of their last 9. I was not excited to watch this game and my excitement further evaporated when Baye Ndongo got a knee to the head early in the game and never returned. Without Ndongo I didn’t think this team had a chance.
But the Yellow Jackets showed a massive amount of heart and won the damn game.
UNC made a run in the middle of the first half to go up 36-25 with 5:30 left in the first half. It looked like the Tar Heels would run away with the game, but Georgia Tech quickly battled back led by veteran guards Kyle Sturdivant and Miles Kelly. With one second left in the first half Naithan George tied it up 37-37. Almost the entire second half was within one or two possessions. Georgia Tech made a few huge shots to go up 67-60 with 5 minutes left. The crowd was loud and momentum was in GT’s favor. The Heels looked out of sorts.
But UNC is too good to let the game get out of hand there. RJ Davis took over. With 3:26 left Georgia Tech led 72-68. They then went on a 3-minute scoring drought and let UNC take the lead on a RJ Davis fast-break layup 73-2 with 34 seconds left. The Yellow Jackets bled the clock a bit and then ran a pick and roll with Naithan George and Tyzhaun Claude. Armando Bacot switched onto George who took it to the hole and scooped a beautiful left handed layup over Bacot to take back the lead with 7 seconds left. The Tar Heels had one play left and ran a pick and roll for RJ Davis. They got the switch they wanted with center Ebenezer Duwuona guarding Davis. Davis drove on him, there was contact, and Davis missed a falling away shot. No call, game over!
There was much complaining about the no call on the final play. In the two replays I saw I actually think Davis initiated all of the contact. Duwuona might have been moving out into him, but it was hard for me to tell. Either way that is often called a foul on the defense.
With Baye Ndongo out injured this game was all about the guards. Kyle Sturdivant led the way 18 points on 6-10 shooting and 4 assists. He made some serious veteran plays and separately hit an off-balance, bank three pointer late in the second half. Naithan George was also key. He had 16 points (including the game winning layup) on 4-10 shooting and 4 assists. He drew a whole bunch of fouls and was 8-10 from the line for the game. Miles Kelly wasn’t quite his vintage self, but he finished with 15 points and was largely pretty good at breaking the press. Tyzhaun Claude was tasked with taking on Armando Bacot after Ndongo went out and did an admirable job, holding Bacot to just 9 points and only 1 offensive rebound. Tafare Gapare also made some big plays in the second half and finished with 8 rebounds.
North Carolina couldn’t shoot today. Part of that was the stingy defense, but part of that was poor offensive sets and missing wide open shots. They shot only 36.4% from the field and 28.6% from deep. The difference in this game was free throws. UNC only shot 9-17 on free throws while GT was 15-17. That is 6 extra points for GT in a game with a one point margin of victory. The only reason UNC was in the game is that they dominated the offensive glass. They ended up with 22 offensive rebounds which is huge. At one point the Tar Heels missed a free throw, but got the offensive rebound on three straight possessions.
Georgia Tech is 3-7 in the ACC. They have wins against the two best teams in the ACC and arguably the third best team. They can play up to anyone, but haven’t been able to find consistency. Georgia Tech has now beaten a top-5 North Carolina team 7 times in history. This is the first since 2005.
Georgia Tech now heads to Raleigh to play NC State at 5:30 pm on Saturday (on the CW). Hopefully this team comes out with energy again and hopefully Baye Ndongo is back in full health.