Georgia Tech men’s basketball head coach Josh Pastner experienced a lot of firsts in 2016- and he ended the calendar year with his first conference game won with the Yellow Jackets. “If you saw our team in our first practice in April, I don’t know if we would’ve won two or three games the whole year. Forget ACC, I don’t if we would’ve won two or three games the entire season,” Coach Pastner said before cracking a smile. “So I feel great, but I also know there’s a lot of games left.” Pastner’s Yellow Jackets defeated Roy Willams’ No. 9 UNC Tar Heels 75-63. It was the Yellow Jackets first conference-opening win since the 2005-06 season against Virginia.
“I think this speaks to the weakness of North Carolina right now,” Coach Williams said after the loss. “Today Georgia Tech was much more aggressive, had more enthusiasm and as the game went along, we kept giving them more confidence. The two squads were evenly matched for most of the afternoon in Midtown Atlanta, trading basket-for-basket in the grinder. Despite the fact that the Tar Heels shot 33.3 percent from the field and both teams shot a combined 10 percent from three-point range in the first half, the game wasn’t ugly. The margin of the matchup never exceeded five points, until 7:25 minutes were left in the second half. Senior Josh Heath sunk an enormous three-pointer as the shot clock expired to swing the momentum on the Yellow Jacket’s side for the rest of the game.
“The clock was going down and I didn’t really have another option,” Heath said of the shot. Freshman Josh Okogie had a different perspective on the momentum swinger, however. “I seen it coming,” Okogie said. Okogie finished with 26 points, 5 rebounds, and three assists on the day. Heath was the second-leading scorer for Georgia Tech with 15 points and junior center Ben Lammers collected a double-double with 11 points and 11 rebounds. Senior forward Kennedy Meeks contributed 7 points and 14 rebounds for the Tar Heels in the effort.
The fans in attendance appeared to heavily favor the Tar Heels, as Carolina Sky Blue filled the majority of seats in the McCamish Pavilion. The closer the Yellow Jackets were from a victory, the louder the home crowd became. “For me, it was just crazy. I don’t even know who the crowd was cheering for, [I don’t know] if the cheers were for us or North Carolina,” Okogie said after the win. “They had a lot of fans in there, we had a lot of fans too. It definitely did get our spirits up, because after a play everyone’s yelling and it made us alert.”
Georgia Tech will now face the No. 5 Duke Blue Devils on Jan. 4 in Cameron Indoor Stadium. Duke is coming off of a loss on the road against Virginia Tech.