Its margin of error atop the ACC reduced after a surprising loss, North Carolina looks to bounce back with a 12th consecutive home victory over Georgia Tech at the Smith Center on Saturday.
The fourth-ranked Tar Heels (24-3, 10-3) have had a week to stew since blowing a 16-point second-half lead in an 88-85 overtime loss to Maryland on Feb. 21 that snapped a 10-game winning streak. Their lead in the conference was reduced to one game after archrival Duke defeated the Terrapins at Maryland on Wednesday, and the players are ready to start the stretch run leading into the ACC tournament.
“We’re anxious to get back out there, and get that bad taste out of our mouths,” junior guard Wayne Ellington said. “I think it was a pretty good time to have a break. Of course, we would have liked to go out there and play instead of having a week off.”
North Carolina can still win the ACC regular-season title by winning its final three games and is still among the frontrunners for a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament. The Tar Heels shot only 37.7 percent and make 5-of-19 shots from 3-point range in last Saturday’s loss, but coach Roy Williams noted “this time we stunk it up both ways” as Maryland shot 45.6 percent and hit 13 3-pointers.
Like his team, North Carolina forward Tyler Hansbrough suffered through one of his worst performances in last week’s loss—shooting 4-of-12 and scoring 11 points. But Hansbrough, the ACC’s leading scorer at 21.0 points per game and reigning national player of the year, has averaged 26.8 points on 60.4 percent shooting in four games against Georgia Tech.
He had a career-high 40 against the Yellow Jackets as a freshman and 27 points in last season’s 83-82 victory in which he preserved the win by blocking Zack Peacock’s shot in the closing seconds.
After this game, the Tar Heels play at Virginia Tech on Wednesday before a potential ACC title showdown at home against Duke on March 8.
Georgia Tech (10-16, 1-12) has not won at the Smith Center since a 92-83 overtime victory on Feb. 10, 1996, and enters with a six-game losing streak— its longest since an eight-game slide from Jan. 14-Feb. 9, 2006. The Yellow Jackets, who are on course to finish last in the ACC for the first time since 1997, have been idle since an 81-73 loss to then-No. 13 Clemson on Sunday when they allowed a season-high 12 3-pointers.
Lewis Clinch, who scored a season-high 27 in Sunday’s loss, has hit six 3-pointers in consecutive games while averaging 25.5 points. The Yellow Jackets also boast the conference’s top rebounder in Gani Lawal (10.0 per game), who’s also averaging a team-high 15.2 points.
Georgia Tech has split its last 12 games against North Carolina but has lost 17 straight road games to ranked opponents since beating then-No. 3 Duke on March 3, 2004.