No. 7 Tar Heels beat Yellow Jackets 86-78 for 2-0 ACC start
CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (AP) — Joel Berry II tried to keep his head in the game as the turnovers and frustrations mounted Saturday. He did it the best way possible: hitting a couple of big baskets that helped No. 7 North Carolina to a 2-0 start in Atlantic Coast Conference play.
Berry scored a career-high 19 points and hit the go-ahead 3-pointer with 5:07 left in the 86-78 win against Georgia Tech. That 3 was part of a 9-0 burst, and he followed it with a driving basket for a three-point play on the next possession.
He made 5 of 6 free throws in the final 2½ minutes as the Tar Heels (13-2, 2-0) pulled away late. Before that flurry, Berry made 3 of 9 shots and had five turnovers.
“I didn’t play well in the first half and had a lot of turnovers,” Berry said. “But I just tried to stay in the game, stay in it on the defensive end. Later on in the second half, I kind of got it going.”
It was reminiscent of Berry stepping up to hit a key 3-pointer with 3:06 left in a comeback against Kansas State on Nov. 24, a game in which he had made just one shot to that point.
Brice Johnson added 15 points and 11 rebounds for the Tar Heels, who trailed by nine points in the first half and by one with 6 minutes left. Marcus Paige added a key pull-up basket during the Tar Heels’ finishing kick of scoring on 11 straight possessions, which ended when they ran out the final seconds.
“I like guys that can finish games,” UNC coach Roy Williams said.
Marcus Georges-Hunt matched his career high with 25 points for Georgia Tech (10-4, 0-1), while Adam Smith added 20 points with six 3-pointers. The Yellow Jackets haven’t beaten UNC since January 2011 and haven’t won in Chapel Hill since a year before that.
“We’re past the point of, ‘All right, we competed with a really good team,’” coach Brian Gregory said. “We’ve got to figure out ways to break through and win the game.”
Georgia Tech: Charles Mitchell had 14 points. ... Georgia Tech shot 42 percent. ... The Yellow Jackets opened ACC play on the road for the third straight year. ... Georges-Hunt made 12 of 15 free throws.
UNC: The Tar Heels shot 58 percent after halftime and 51 percent for the game with six players scoring in double figures, the third straight game with at least five. ... UNC had a 39-29 rebounding advantage. ... Junior forward Kennedy Meeks missed his sixth straight game with a bone bruise on his left knee. Williams said he won’t play Monday at Florida State and it’s unclear exactly when he will return.
Senior center Joel James matched his career high with 11 points on 5-for-6 shooting. He had struggled without a basket in the last two games, but came through with a confidence-building performance that UNC needed with Meeks still out.
Smith, a graduate transfer from Virginia Tech, had a huge first half with 14 points and four 3s. His output slowed after halftime with UNC doing a better job chasing him and Georges-Hunt taking the lead offensively.
“They were more keyed in on me,” Smith said. “They played some deny (defense). They knew where I was at the whole time in the second half. They kind of lost me sometimes in the first half.”
Williams improved to 143-57 in his first 200 ACC regular-season games, passing late mentor Dean Smith (142-58) for the previous ACC mark for most wins in that span.
Georgia Tech plays at Pittsburgh on Wednesday.
UNC plays at Florida State on Monday.