Roy Williams can do without the turnovers, but he’ll take the final result.
Despite 15 turnovers, North Carolina improved to 16-4 overall and 5-2 in league play with a 80-66 win over Georgia Tech on Saturday at the Smith Center. Four players scored in double figures for North Carolina.
Luke Maye led the Tar Heels in scoring with 17 points. Joel Berry II, and Cam Johnson each added 16. Theo Pinson finished with 11 points, giving him double digits for the third straight game for the first time in his career.
It took a platoon effort from the Tar Heels, who struggled early with the Yellow Jackets’ zone, and their own inability to take care of the basketball.
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“To me the first half was our turnovers, fouling too much, but turnovers was a big thing,” Williams said. “Their defense is good, period, and it’s also unusual. It’s disruptive. Give their defense some credit.”
After a dunk by Sterling Manley gave UNC a five-point lead at the 13:41 mark of the first half, the wheels fell off temporarily for the Tar Heels. Over its next 11 possessions, UNC turned the ball over eight times and went 0-for-5 from the field. The Yellow Jackets (10-9, 3-3 ACC) weren’t able to take control of the game at that point, only taking a five-point lead.
Johnson ended the drought by the Tar Heels with a 3-pointer from the top of the key, and North Carolina ended the first half on a 13-4 run and led 35-28 at the break. One first-half spark came from Manley, who scored nine points in the first nine minutes, going 4-for-4 from the field and three of his baskets being dunks.
Georgia Tech took an early lead, going up by as many as five before North Carolina got going.
Pinson tied the score at 11 with a 3 from the corner, much to the delight of the Tar Heels fans. The next two baskets were a dunk from Manley and a layup from Maye before North Carolina went cold with 11 straight empty possessions. After the under-four timeout, the Tar Heels scored on four of their final six possessions and got a jumper from Johnson with less than one minute remaining to take a 35-28 lead into the locker room.
That momentum carried over to the start of the second half for North Carolina. The Tar Heels scored on three of their first four trips down the offensive end of the floor, jumping out to a 12-point lead.
Pinson said the biggest turnaround was the Tar Heels cleaning up what they were doing wrong in the first half.
“Bottom line, we did not think it was anything they were doing,” Pinson said. “We just turned the ball over on ourselves. So it was just stuff we could control. Once we took care of the ball, everything else took care of itself.”
Moments later, after another triple from Johnson, North Carolina went up by 14.
“We just needed a spark,” Johnson said. “Someone to get on the board because we kept turning it over. I knew we were going to keep shooting because we had to keep Joel going and keep Theo loose.”
The Yellow Jackets wouldn’t go quietly, battling back to cut the lead down to seven after consecutive layups with less than 12 minutes remaining in the game.
However, Johnson drove right into the teeth of the Yellow Jackets’ defense for a layup to push the lead to seven, and after a Georgia Tech missed layup, Joel Berry raced the length of the floor for a layup to make it a nine-point game with 9:33 remaining. A 3 from Jose Alvarado cut the lead to eight.
That would be as close as Georgia Tech would get the remaining of the way, as North Carolina cruised to its fourth straight win, remaining perfect in ACC play at home.