Tech stops Heels, 88-77

ATLANTA – North Carolina had an answer for B.J. Elder's 30-point performance in the form of Rashad McCants, who tallied a career-high 31. However the rest of UNC's scoring leaders struggled, as Georgia Tech pulled away for an 88-77 win Tuesday night buoyed by five straight threes from Elder.

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    "[Elder] was hot," Jackie Manuel said. "He was hitting everything he put up and with a hand in his face. He was just on."

    But unlike McCants, Elder got a little more help from his friends. Will Bynum scored 17 points, Marvin Lewis added 14 to go with Clarence Moore's 10.

    "We have placed a great deal of emphasis on setting screens for B.J. and Will Bynum," Georgia Tech coach Paul Hewitt said. "On top of that, he's just a great talent, so if you give him a little room, he can put up big numbers.

    McCants, who became the first UNC player to score 30 or more points since Joe Forte had 36 against Florida State on Feb. 20, 2001, continued to solidify his grip on the ACC scoring lead. But Sean May was held to nine points, while Raymond Felton and Jawad Williams were also held below double figures in scoring. May and Felton combined for 53 points in the Tar Heels' 103-88 victory over the Yellow Jackets on Jan. 11.

    The loss kept the Tar Heels (14-7, 4-6 ACC) from taking over sole possession of third place in the conference, a status earned by Tech (18-5, 5-4 ACC) with the win.

    When Alexander Memorial Coliseum was nicknamed the Thrillerdome, it was for games like this one. From the start, it resembled more of a backyard pickup game than a tactical battle of two almost identically ranked teams. The shot clock seemed as useless as a lead, as both teams pushed the ball up the court with abandon.

    With threes raining considerably harder than the drizzle outside, when a defense gave up just two points, it might as well have been considered a stop. Carolina converted 10 of 25 three-point attempts, including McCants' 7-for-13 effort. But Elder again got a little more help from his friends, as the Yellow Jackets made 13 of 25 from beyond the arc.

    While the game seesawed back and forth most of the way, Tech began to pull away as the game wore down, sparked by its raucous sellout crowd of 9,181. And when UNC coach Roy Williams picked up a technical foul with 4:37 left to play arguing a foul he thought should have been called when Melvin Scott went up for a layup; two free throws by Will Bynum and a circus put back dunk by Isma'il Muhammad gave the Yellow Jackets their biggest lead of the game at 74-63.

    "Should I have gotten the technical?" Williams asked rhetorically. "I probably shouldn't. I didn't curse [the referee], I just screamed at him to call the foul. It was a foul, but that didn't beat us. That's nine I have had in 16 years of coaching."

    The Tar Heels, which made 20-of-22 free throws Saturday at Wake Forest, made just 1-of-8 in the opening period – the early difference maker as the Yellow Jackets took a 34-29 lead into the half. As he did against the Deacs, Scott led all scorers at the break, all of his 10 points in the first half.

    Just over a minute into the second half, Tech opened a 10-point lead. But no lead was safe in this game. Following back-to-back baskets by McCants, a jumper by May, and a layup by Felton, and Carolina was up 40-39 after quickly running off 11 unanswered points.

    Carolina shot below 50-percent (9-for-19) from the free throw line for the first time this season, while Tech made 23 of 28 from the charity stripe.

    UNC returns home from its torrid three-game stretch against ranked opponents to host Maryland Sunday and then will have six days off before a Feb. 21 game with Florida State in the Smith Center.

    "We're just going through some adversity," McCants said. "We have six games left, and someway, somehow, we've got to get some wins very quickly."

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