by Stan Awtrey
ATLANTA – North Carolina shot a season-low 33.3-percent from the field and committed 20 turnovers in a stunning 75-63 loss to Georgia Tech in the ACC opener at McCamish Pavilion.
The Tar Heels came into the game averaging 89.6 points, but wound up with their lowest output of the season against a Georgia Tech team that is the most inexperienced in the country and picked to finish 14th in the conference.
Georgia Tech took the lead with 11:59 left in the second half on a pair of free throws by freshman Josh Okogie and never trailed again.
There were several key moments, but none bigger than a long 3-pointer that Josh Heath made with 7:48 left that gave the Yellow Jackets a 53-49 lead. Georgia Tech was 17 of 25 at the line in the second half to help prevent any comeback.
The Tar Heels rarely had an answer for Okogie, who didn’t shy away from the big moment nor hesitate to attack the basket. Okogie scored 26 points and made 11 of 13 from the line, with five rebounds and three assists.
Justin Jackson scored 16 points on 6-for-17 shooting to lead the Tar Heels. Nate Britt added 13 points. Kennedy Meeks had a team-high 14 rebounds.
The Heels shot just 33.3 percent from the field in the first half, their worst opening half of the season, but they were still able to lead 32-29 at the break. UNC was 12-for-36 from the floor and 3-for-15 on 3-pointers.
UNC only had two other similar instances. They shot 35.9 percent in the first half against Tennessee and won 73-71 and shot 35.7 percent in the first half against Indiana in a 76-67 loss.
And it was more of the same in the second half - 33.3 percent shooting, and 2-for-11 on 3-pointers.
Even though the game was played on the Georgia Tech campus, the crowd was heavily skewed toward the Tar Heels. Carolina Blue T-shirts, sweatshirts and hoodies dominated the McCamish Pavilion, especially in the upper ring of seats. The Tar Heel crowd provided Georgia Tech with its second sellout of the season.
Stat of note: UNC is now 52-12 in ACC openers. Roy Williams is 9-5 in ACC openers, 4-3 when it occurs on the road. The Tar Heels fell to 66-24 against Georgia Tech, which snapped a seven-game losing streak to UNC.
The Tar Heels play again on Tuesday at Clemson before returning home on Jan. 7 to play N.C. State. It will be only the 10th time that UNC will open league play with consecutive road games, the last time coming in 2003.