It’s safe to say that North Carolina would like to soon forget how the 2016 calendar year ended.
The Tar Heels opened their ACC schedule with a crushing 75-63 defeat on the road at Georgia Tech. North Carolina shot just 33.3 percent from the field and allowed the Yellow Jackets to rip off 46 points in the second half.
It was a recipe for losing. North Carolina turned the ball over 20 times — six of which came from star point guard Joel Berry (a career high). According to Ken Pomeroy, the Heels recorded a turnover rate of 25.6 percent, which puts them in the ACC’s cellar in that category in conference games.
North Carolina committed 22 fouls; three players — Berry, Isaiah Hicks and Nate Britt — finished with four fouls each. Georgia Tech shot 33 free throws, making 28 of them. Most of the damage, however, came after the intermission. The Yellow Jackets scored 25 of their 46 second-half points from the charity stripe. Josh Pastner’s club shot better than 89 percent from the line in the final 20 minutes.
Josh Okogie led the Yellow Jackets with a game-high 26 points. The freshman scored those 26 points on just 14 field-goal attempts, which is super efficient. However, he made only one three-pointer. Okogie made up the difference from the free-throw line, where he was 11-of-13.
As usual, UNC dominated on the glass; the Tar Heels grabbed 19 offense rebounds and were plus-nine in terms of rebounding margin. But it wasn’t enough to offset the perimeter shooting woes.
Georgia Tech didn’t set the world on fire from beyond the arc (3-of-11), but UNC connected on just five of 26 three-point attempts. Justin Jackson and Kenny Williams, two of the better catch-and-shoot long bombers in the ACC, missed on all 11 of their three-point attempts.
North Carolina, as a team, managed a lowly effective field goal rate of just 36.8 percent, which is not going to cut it. Georgia Tech did well by allowing UNC very few trips to the foul line (10-of-14). No one from North Carolina’s bench even attempted a free throw.
North Carolina’s trio of freshmen all struggled. Tony Bradley, who has been outstanding to start his collegiate career, suffered his toughest game as a Tar Heel. Bradley played just nine minutes, missed both of his field-goal attempts and failed to grab an offensive rebound. This was the first time in Bradley’s career that he’s thrown up goose eggs in both points and offensive rebounds.
Brandon Robinson has struggled with his shot for most of the season; he hasn’t made a three-pointer since the Davidson game on Dec. 7. Robinson finished the Georgia Tech game with an 0-of-5 shooting performance. Over his last four games, Robinson has shot just 20 percent (2-for-10) from the field.
Seventh Woods, who has had good moments this season, continues to slip in the rotation. Woods played just three minutes against Georgia Tech but managed to turn the ball over in that short stretch — a problem of his. Woods has now played eight or fewer minutes in four of North Carolina’s last five games. Stilman White, the other backup point guard, played six minutes in the loss.
Despite the setback at Georgia Tech, ranked No. 130 by KenPom, North Carolina has no need to hit the panic button. One game does not make a season. UNC is still an excellent team, and the Tar Heels still rank top 10 in the nation in both offensive and defensive efficiency. They will try to bounce back Tuesday night at Clemson.