Heels get 'defensive' in 103-88 win

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – While it's too early to characterize a game as of the "must win" variety, twelfth-ranked North Carolina could not afford to drop its first two ACC home games. The Tar Heels put that fear to rest early in their match-up with No. 8 Georgia Tech Sunday night, as they scored the game's first nine points and never looked back en route to a 103-88 win over the Yellow Jackets.

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    Sean May scored a career-high 28 points on 11-of-20 shooting and Raymond Felton scored a season-high 25 to go with nine assists.

    "It was Raymond's best game," UNC coach Roy Williams said. "He was more aggressive. Sean was big time for us and Raymond was big for us. I told Rashad [McCants] his defense was the best he had ever dreamed – much less played."

    The last time Carolina had two players score over 25 points was in a 107-100 win at Tech in 1998, when Shammond Williams (42 points) and Antawn Jamison (31 points) accomplished the feat.

    "Scoring is just something that when I have to do it, I have to do it," Felton said. "I just come out and try to execute the offense and get my teammates the ball, keep them happy and get them into the game. All our guys just stepped up."

    The Tar Heels committed just 14 turnovers to the Yellow Jackets' 24, 13 of which came via UNC steals.

    "If we want to be known for something, it has to be our defense," said May, who also pulled down eight rebounds and blocked two shots. "We beat a really good team tonight because we played hard on the defensive end. It had to be our best game of the year."

    UNC (10-2, 1-1 ACC) surpassed the century mark for the fourth time this season and increased its all-time lead in the series over Tech, 55-16, including 14 of the last 17 meetings. It was also the first time since January 1993 that the Tar Heels had scored over 100 points in consecutive ACC games.

    The physical nature of the contest and the severity in which Carolina needed a home court conference win, sparked a spirited outpouring of support from the throng of 21,750 fans at the Smith Center. And if Tech is one of the better teams in the league, then the Tar Heels should be feeling pretty good about their position among the ACC favorites right now.

    "They've got a big time basketball team," Williams said. "We had to play our best game of the year, and I thought it was our best game of the year."

    Carolina shot over 50 percent and forced 16 turnovers and had three players in double figures by halftime, extending their lead to 20 points with at one point before settling for a 53-39 lead at halftime.

    "Our defense made them feel uncomfortable with the ball," said McCants, who finished with 17 points. "Teams are going to make their runs, but we've got to be tough enough to keep going and keep our composure."

    The Yellow Jackets (12-2, 0-1 ACC) later pulled to within 72-63 with 12:42 left in the game following a steal and dunk by Will Bynum, who along with Jarrett Jack, attempted to hound Felton. But Bynum and Jack only stirred up Felton's intensity, and the Tar Heels were not to be denied their first conference win as they rolled off the next five points to extend the lead back to double-digits for good.

    "I liked how competitive we were," Williams said. "We talked about a sense of urgency on the defensive end. Offensively, we wanted to attack and make good decisions. They made a little run in the second half, and then we scored on our next three possessions. After that it was just a battle of how many guys were going to be there in the end."

    Jawad Williams, who suffered a concussion against UNC-Wilmington on Dec. 28, caught a knee to the face less than two minutes into the second half and lay bleeding on the court. He would not to return to the game or to the bench for that matter.

    "Jawad's a little groggy," Williams said. "I asked the trainer if he had a broken nose and he said he didn't know. We want know until late tomorrow afternoon, but it doesn't look good."

    But Williams's injury and an earlier scare that had Felton grasping his knee in pain a few minutes earlier, only solidified the Tar Heel's resolve. Symbolic of their workmanlike effort, Roy Williams had his coat off and sleeves rolled up throughout most of the game.

    "It really wasn't that physical," said McCants, despite the two teams combined on 52 fouls and 78 free throw attempts. "It's always about toughness, but you also want to play together and be smart."

    Jack led Tech with 22 points, but also turned the ball over seven times.

    "Jarrett Jack is a load," Williams said. "We gamble on defense, but hopefully its controlled, and sound fundamental gambling. I still think we can win games in the 50s and 60s, but I would rather have them in the 90s."

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