Sports

North Carolina cruises past Georgia Tech 77-54, but loses key freshman to injury

When North Carolina gets going, it’s hard to stop the Tar Heels.

That was evident Tuesday night against Georgia Tech at the McCamish Pavilion in Atlanta, after the Tar Heels opened the second half on a 25-5 run to take a 27-point lead with about 13 minutes left in the game.

That was all they needed, and the ninth-ranked Tar Heels (16-4, 6-1) beat the Yellow Jackets 77-54. Graduate senior wing Cam Johnson had a team-high 22 points on 8 of 10 shooting. He was 4 of 6 from 3. Freshman point guard Coby White had 19 points and eight assists, and the Tar Heels picked up their fourth consecutive win of the season. They are also 4-0 in ACC road games.

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North Carolina’s Coby White (2) forces a turnover by Georgia Tech’s Jose Alvarado (10) during the first half on Tuesday, January 29, 2019 at McCamish Pavillion in Atlanta, Georgia. Robert Willett rwillett@newsobserver.com

“Eight turnovers at half, I was very disappointed in that,” UNC coach Roy Williams said. “For us to miss 35 shots, and we got seven offensive rebounds, so I’m not pleased. I was not pleased at halftime with that. But we came out in the second half, and same old thing I’ve said a lot, ball started going in the basket and everything started looking a lot better.”

The Tar Heels had 20 turnovers, but made up for it by shooting 48 percent from 3. It was the third consecutive that they shot better than 45 percent from 3.

However, it came at a price.

UNC freshman wing Leaky Black went down with an ankle injury late in the second half and had to be carried off the court into the locker room. The versatile freshman is one of the Tar Heels’ best defensive players. He has played every position, and averages 11 minutes per game.

After the game, Williams said Black sprained his left ankle.

Black left the locker room on crutches and in a walking boot.

The game

The game started slow, with both teams shooting a combined 2 of 14 from the floor. The two teams jockeyed for the lead during the first six minutes of the game. But the Tar Heels took the lead for good after Johnson hit a 3-pointer in transition to put them up 9-7 with 13:49 left in the first half.

The Yellow Jackets’ zone defense slowed the game down and made it difficult for the Tar Heels to get transition buckets in the first half. The Tar Heels had eight first-half turnovers. But the Tar Heels also played well defensively.

The Yellow Jackets missed their first nine 3-pointers, and started the game 1 of 10 from behind the 3-point line.

After Georgia Tech cut UNC’s lead to five points, UNC reserve wing Brandon Robinson knocked down a 3-pointer from the top of the key to give the Tar Heels a 29-21 lead with less than two minutes left in the first half.

At halftime, UNC led 31-24.

The Tar Heels opened the second half on an 10-2 run in the first two minutes, which included two deep 3-pointers from Johnson, and a fast break dunk. But they didn’t stop there. They took advantage of the Yellow Jackets’ poor shooting and turnovers, and continued on a 25-5 run.

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North Carolina’s Cameron Johnson (13) drives to the basket for a dunk over Georgia Tech’s James Banks III (1) in the second half on Tuesday, January 29, 2019 at McCamish Pavilion in Atlanta, Georgia. Robert Willett rwillett@newsobserver.com

By that time the Tar Heels’ lead had increased to 27 points with 13 minutes left in the game, and there was nothing the Yellow Jackets could do.

Georgia Tech (11-10, 3-5 ACC) finished the game shooting 2 of 16 from 3-point range.

Georgia Tech senior forward Abdoulaye Gueye led the Yellow Jackets with 14 points.

Black came down awkwardly late in the second half while trying to defend a layup. He laid on the floor for a few minutes, until he had to be carried off the floor by trainers and teammates into the locker room.

What’s next?

UNC’s next game will be against No. 15 Louisville (15-5, 6-1) on the road on Saturday. The last time UNC lost was against Louisville. The Cardinals dominated the Tar Heels at the Dean Smith Center 83-62 on Jan. 12. It was their worst home loss in the Roy Williams era.

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Jonathan M. Alexander has been covering the North Carolina Tar Heels since May 2018. He previously covered Duke basketball and recruiting in the ACC. He is an alumnus of N.C. Central University.
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