Tech blown out by emotional Tar Heels

Not that there’s ever a good time for Georgia Tech to face North Carolina at the Dean Dome, but Saturday wasn’t it.

The No. 15 Tar Heels were coming off an overtime loss to rival Duke, their fourth loss in five games and playing at home for the first time since their legendary former coach Dean Smith died Feb. 7.

The Yellow Jackets were little match for the emotionally charged Tar Heels, who blew them out in an 89-60 win Saturday in front of a host of Smith’s former players in town for his public memorial service Sunday in the building named after him.

North Carolina coach Roy Williams opened the game in a four-corners set as a tribute to Smith, who invented the stalling tactic that led to the advent of the shot clock. The play resulted in a backdoor cut for an easy layup by Brice Johnson on a pinpoint pass from Marcus Paige, which was a precursor of plenty to come.

Paige embodied the idea of the Tar Heels bouncing back from the Duke loss. He was coming off a 2-for-11 shooting night against Duke, with only three assists and two turnovers. On Saturday, Paige was the instigator, with 10 assists and no turnovers to go with 13 points for his first career double-double.

“He was in complete control from start to finish,” Tech coach Brian Gregory said.

Paige and Johnson, who overcame a stomach ailment to score 16 points on 7-for-10 shooting, were among six Tar Heels who scored in double figures. Tech, by comparison, had two — Marcus Georges-Hunt with 15 and Quinton Stephens with 10 off the bench.

“Obviously there was an emotional piece to the game, and they were able to channel that in a very positive way,” Gregory said of the Tar Heels.

The Jackets (12-15, 3-12 ACC) have lost 10 of their past 11 games in Chapel Hill. This time they could point to familiar offensive woes that resurfaced in the first four minutes of the second half.

Down by 14 points at halftime, Tech’s offense went dark. Gregory called more timeouts (two) than Tech had shot attempts (0), while the Jackets committed five turnovers. By the time Charles Mitchell ended the drought with a basket at the 16:21 mark, Tech was down 23 points, 55-32.

“We were trying to get (the margin) below 10 in the second half,” Stephens said. “I think we wanted it so bad that maybe we were forcing a couple things.”

Tech trailed by as many as 38 points in the second half and gave up 46 points in the paint overall, which was in large measure why Carolina (19-8, 9-5) shot a season-high 62.3 percent from the floor.

The Jackets matched their loss at Virginia for the largest margin this season. Their only consolation Saturday was that they scored well above their output of 28 points against the Cavaliers, which was their lowest total in 68 years.

“We got a beat by a superior team today that played at a really high level,” Gregory said. “I’m OK with that as long as you compete. We had some guys that did. Unfortunately we didn’t have everybody, and we need everybody.”

As emotional as North Carolina’s players were Saturday, Williams was critical of the Smith Center crowd of 20,779. After recent losses at Duke, Pittsburgh and Louisville, ACC schools known for raucous fan bases, he thought the fans Saturday were quiet by comparison, and he didn’t think enough of them took notice of the four-corners tribute.

“I was a little disappointed that more of our crowd didn’t have more savvy,” Williams said. “You go on the road and people are screaming like banshees, and today every time I yelled at a player, they turned around and looked at me. When I yelled at a player Wednesday night (at Duke), they never knew I was over there yelling.”