Heels Scramble Past Yellow Jackets

ATLANTA – No. 19 North Carolina routed Georgia Tech in their first meeting on Feb. 21 with a lethal display of offensive efficiency. The Tar Heels delivered a similar result through a different manner on Tuesday, scoring 25 points off 18 Yellow Jacket turnovers.

In Chapel Hill two weekends ago, the Tar Heels built a 43-29 halftime by shooting 61.3 percent from the floor. Only six of those points came off four Georgia Tech turnovers. This time around, however, UNC capitalized on a litany of errors to push transition and run out to a 39-21 halftime lead.

After a Tadric Jackson layup to pull Georgia Tech within 6-5 less than four minutes into the game, the Tar Heels forced turnovers on the Yellow Jackets’ next five possessions. Georgia Tech went nearly three minutes without attempting a field goal.

The first three turnovers during that stretch resulted in transition layups or dunks for the Tar Heels, who finished with 22 fast break points.

“It’s a four or six-point game, and then all of a sudden, it’s an 18-point game because they turned it over a couple of times - 3-4-5 times, in fact – and then we were laying it up on the other end,” UNC head coach Roy Williams said following the 81-49 victory. “I think that little spurt there for us offensively was the most important part of the game for us.”

The Yellow Jackets committed seven turnovers in their first 13 possessions in falling behind by seven points. Georgia Tech turned the ball over on roughly 40 percent of its opening 23 possessions.

UNC forced several turnovers with its ‘32’ and ‘42’ scrambles.

“We ran a lot more scrambles than we usually do,” said junior guard Marcus Paige said, who led UNC with a season-high six steals. “We felt like we could pressure them. They like to throw it inside a lot, so we wanted to make their perimeter guys uncomfortable.”

The scrambles operate like this: when an opposing ball handler crosses midcourt, the Tar Heels have options to either trap off the first pass he makes or the direction he decides to dribble. The specific scramble is called before the guard reaches the time line, which sets the defensive rotation.

According to Paige, a perimeter defender will then leave his guy to double team, two other players play a midfield cover zone and the remaining big guards the rim. The scrambles are designed to force the ball handlers to make tougher decisions as well as to speed the game up.

UNC also doubled the post on the catch instead of the bounce, a strategic shift to limit Georgia Tech’s effectiveness inside. It worked as Demarco Cox and Charles Mitchell combined for six turnovers down low.

In the first half alone, UNC scored 21 points off 11 Georgia Tech turnovers. The 25 points off turnovers were the third-most of the season.

The Tar Heels limited their exposure early in committing six turnovers by allowing just four points off those miscues, but the game turned sloppy after halftime. UNC finished with a 25-14 edge in the points off turnovers category.

The Tar Heels have scored more than 20 points off turnovers in ACC play just once, and that came in the overtime loss at Duke (26). UNC’s season high is 31 points off turnovers in the win over UCLA at the Battle 4 Atlanta in November.

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