Raymond Felton – Carolina's MVP has become one of the grittiest point guards ever at UNC in just his first year and has developed into one of the top lead guards in the nation. His passion for the game, intelligence, ballhandling wizardry, passing skills, decision-making, recognition of teammates, big-shot ability, flair for key moments, and desire to be involved in important situations makes him the quintessential point guard. While he has plenty to work on, Felton is easily the biggest difference between this year's Heels and last year's. He made two free throws with 7.7 seconds left to give Carolina the win and scored seven of his 19 points in the final 4:15. He also had five assists.
Jawad Williams – The mature leader of UNC's team and its defensive quarterback, Williams was excellent over the last ten minutes. He only hit five of 13 field goal attempts for the game, but he got off some nice looks and stayed with it, finishing with 15 points and eight rebounds. He combined with Felton to score 17 of UNC's last 21 points, and helped to will the Heels to victory. His slam dunk off his own miss was one of the more impressive sequences of the afternoon.
Late defense - The Heels buckled down late, forcing a 5-second count on Tech with 43.2 seconds remaining and disorienting Tech's offensive flow in the last seven minutes.
Melvin Scott – Scott finally converted a layup, which should be reason for celebration enough for UNC fans, but more important was his stepped-up defensive play. He did so well that coach Matt Doherty gave him 19 minutes and cited his defense as a reason he was in late instead of Rashad McCants. For the game, Scott scored five points and had a pair of assists.
Converting gifts – The Tar Heels scored 20 points off 19 Tech turnovers while the Yellow Jackets had just seven off of 12 UNC giveaways. Carolina took advantage of Tech's benevolence by getting good looks on its secondary break, most notably a beautiful 3-pointer by McCants (from Felton) in the first half.
Turnovers – The Heels only turned the ball over 12 times, which isn't bad for such a young team with a relatively predictable offense. One explanation may be that since the Heels often shoot early in possessions they don't often have time to give the ball away. One can also say that since the Heels don't attempt going inside much turnover opportunities are reduced. But one can also say that Felton's amazing skills and improved ballhandling, passing and decision-making of players like Williams and Noel have made the Heels a bit cleaner offensively.
More screening – The Tar Heels set a lot more picks than on Tuesday night. Carolina not only screened on the ball (as they often do), but away from the ball, especially within a range of the lane for cutting mates. This offered UNC some good looks, but also allowed the Heels to more smoothly run their offense than in many games since November. Williams' bank shot with two minutes left that cut the margin to 62-61 came off a screen.
Grit – Carolina came out with plenty of energy and displayed no hangover from the disappointing overtime loss to N.C. State four days earlier. It's a testament to the team and coaching staff they were able to not only purge but also rid the residue of that defeat and were mentally ready to beat a Georgia Tech team that presented matchup problems.
Overcoming deficit - Carolina overcame a 10-point deficit with 7:55 left and by five with 26 seconds remaining. After blowing a very late six-point lead to N.C. State on Tuesday, this is another of many mental positives in this game. The Tar Heels could have wilted midway through the second half but didn't, and could have considered the five-point margin simply too much to overcome, but didn't again. It's a credit to the players and Doherty they remain focused enough to win such a game after the numerous distractions that have surrounded this team since Sean May went down with a season-ending foot injury 63 days earlier.
Late free throws – The Tar Heels hit some key late free throws to win the game, including a pair by Felton with 7.7 seconds left. In fact, UNC knocked down nine of its last 10 from the charity stripe. For the game, Carolina was 16-23 (69.6%), which is much better than the 7-19 the Heels shot on Tuesday.
Stayin' alive – Excuse images of the Bee Gees here, but the Tar Heels stayed alive as they hope to get an invitation to a postseason tournament. With 15 wins, the Heels needs one more victory to guarantee at least an NIT bid because they will play a minimum of 31 games, including the first round of the ACC tournament. Who knows, upsets of Wake and Duke and a win in the league tourney might get them into the NCAAs. At least the fans can remain alive, and most still have some hope, which wasn't the case this time last year.
Fans - For 20,859 fans to show up after a terrible week for UNC, in which many blue-bloods said they felt like the season had ended after last Tuesday's overtime loss at home to rival N.C. State, is truly remarkable. No longer are most of those who attend games whine and cheesers. They show up and are loud and supportive.
Rebounding – The Tar Heels were outrebounded, 38-22, as Chris Bosh (10) and Ed Nelson (7) combined for just five fewer boards than did the Heels! Unlike on Tuesday when N.C. State entered the game last in the ACC in rebounding, Tech is one of the better glass teams in the league, and with Bosh, Nelson, Isma'il Muhammad (five boards in 12 minutes) and company create matchup issues for the Heels underneath. But a 16-rebound deficit is still a huge negative regardless.
Offensive rebounding – The Tar Heels had just five offensive rebounds for the second consecutive game. Tech had 14 and scored 14 points off of those caroms while UNC actually managed eight. Oddly, Williams had one offensive board and David Noel had two, with the other two credited as team rebounds.
End of 1st half - Carolina led 26-19 with 5:03 left in the first half, but was outscored by the Yellow Jackets 16-2 before Noel tipped in a missed shot by Felton just before the buzzer to make the score 35-30 Tech at halftime. Tech scored on a jump hook, a 3, a slam, another 3, a pull-up jumper, and a pair of free throws as UNC's defense took a lengthy and almost destructive nap.
Field goal defense – The Jackets connected on half of their field goal attempts (28-56) despite some stints of excellent defense by the Tar Heels. But too often Tech would get open looks because of poor switching periods by Carolina and excellent ball movement. In only three of UNC's last 12 games has the opposition shot under 43.8 percent from the field and seven times has been above 48%. Yet, in UNC's first 12 contests, the opposition failed to shoot above 43.8% 10 times, and was under 30% three times. It is clear UNC's defense has declined.
Layup city - Seven of Tech's first eight field goals of the second half were either layups or slams, and came from four different players. UNC was slow during this stretch and didn't switch or react well. Three of the lays were dribble drives.
3-point shooting – UNC was supposed to be an excellent 3-point shooting team this season, as Doherty's preferred style was to include a lot of perimeter shots. But the Heels made just five of 18 (27.8%) from beyond the arc, and continue their inconsistency from outside.
Backcourt inbound – The Heels had a hard time getting the ball inbounds against Tech's full court pressure in the backcourt. They didn't cough it up a bunch of times, but weren't smoother either.
McCants on the bench? - Trailing in the last minute and needing a three most of the time, McCants, who went out of the game with 4:42 left, was mysteriously on the bench, even when he could have been subbed for during a clock-stoppage when UNC had the ball until he re-entered with 29.9 seconds left. Doherty kept rotating him in and out of the game for offensive purposes on UNC's last few possessions, but had McCants, Carolina's best outside shooter by a mile or two, been in the game earlier, it's possible Tech's missed front ends of one-and-ones and Felton's dramatic free throws wouldn't have been necessary.
Bench production - Carolina got just seven points, one rebound and two assists from its bench (the points and assists came from Scott) in 37 minutes of action. Considering UNC's limitations, as a team and with certain players individually, the Tar Heels must get better production from the bench if they are to defeat quality opponents, of which Tech – at 12-13 – isn't.
Rashad McCants – McCants did finish with 14 points, but he had just one rebound and one assist and only took five shots in 27 minutes. He simply wasn't aggressive enough, which was also evident by his mediocre defense. In fact, one reason he missed much time in the last 4:42 was because of his poor defense, and in their attempt to come back, the Tar Heels needed five players giving maximum effort on that end. If this young man played at 100% every game he'd be one of the best players in the ACC despite needing to improve in many areas. In other words, his potential is incredible, but it's eventually up to him.
Jackie Manuel - Nobody questions Manuel's passion and energy, just his hands and some decision-making. He has definitely improved, but at times just doesn't have it, as was the case on Saturday. He did finish with seven points, but had five turnovers to go with one assist, and could have had a few more turnovers but was fortunate that he or a mate grabbed the ball.
The Tar Heels head to Wake Forest on Wednesday night for their last road game of the regular season in what could be a huge game with a UNC upset. Game time is set for 9 p.m. and will be televised regionally by Raycom.
Senior writer Andrew Jones is in his seventh year with Inside Carolina. He also covers the ACC for the Wilmington Star-News/Morning Star and can be reached via e-mail at: AndrewJones@AM630.net.