Georgia Tech faces North Carolina in coach Hubert Davis’ ACC debut

Georgia Tech guard Michael Devoe (0) dribbles past Wisconsin guard Johnny Davis (1) during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game Wednesday, Dec. 1, 2021, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/Hakim Wright Sr.)

Credit: Hakim Wright Sr.

Credit: Hakim Wright Sr.

Georgia Tech guard Michael Devoe (0) dribbles past Wisconsin guard Johnny Davis (1) during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game Wednesday, Dec. 1, 2021, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/Hakim Wright Sr.)

In his six seasons at Georgia Tech, coach Josh Pastner has enjoyed two of his more significant moments at the expense of North Carolina.

He will share another Sunday, when the Tar Heels visit McCamish Pavilion in the ACC opener for both teams (3 p.m., ESPN2). It will be the first conference game for North Carolina coach Hubert Davis, who replaced Roy Williams after his highly successful 18-year run with the Tar Heels.

“Carolina, regardless of who’s the coach, their name is one of the strongest names in all of college basketball,” Pastner said Friday. “So it’s a big game for them, it’s a big game for us, because it’s ACC play and it’s opening ACC. They’re really good.”

Davis starred at North Carolina from 1988-92 and, after careers in the NBA and with ESPN, served as an assistant to Williams from 2012-21. He was named Williams’ successor after the Hall of Famer’s retirement in April.

“He’s just such a good person, such a good human being,” Pastner said of Davis. “He’s just so nice, and you’re always rooting for good people to do to well, and you want to see good people like coach Davis do well. So I was so happy when he got the opportunity to be the head coach at North Carolina once coach Williams decided to retire.”

Pastner now ranks eighth in tenure in the ACC.

“I feel like an old veteran now, I guess you could say, going into my sixth year coaching in the ACC,” Pastner said.

Pastner got his first ACC win on New Year’s Eve 2016 against North Carolina, a stunning 75-63 upset of the Tar Heels in McCamish three days after the Jackets nearly lost to North Carolina A&T. The win served notice that Tech, picked to finish second to last in the ACC that season, was far more capable than expected, and Pastner ended up earning ACC coach-of-the-year honors as the Jackets reached the finals of the NIT.

After sub-.500 records in the two subsequent seasons and then the Jackets started slowly in Pastner’s fourth season, Tech hammered North Carolina at the Smith Center in January 2020, leading by as many as 24 points in the first half en route to a 96-83 win. It signaled the power in the duo of Jose Alvarado and Moses Wright (they combined for 47 points) that would be fully realized a year later.

Reminded of those significant wins, Pastner was quick to offer that Tech also beat North Carolina last season.

“We’ve had three wins against Carolina,” Pastner said. “That’s very hard to do. I don’t want to shortchange last year’s win, either, because that was a great win for us.”

Besides Davis, it will be the first ACC game for Tech’s newcomers, including guard Deivon Smith, who transferred from Mississippi State.

“It’s still a dream come true,” Smith said. “Just me being younger, watching college basketball, you watch Duke, UNC, those big schools like that. For me to be able to play against them and showcase my abilities and everything I can do, I feel like it’s a blessing and it’s an honor to be here at Georgia Tech. So I do love that a lot.”

North Carolina is 5-2, the same as Tech. In their most recent game, the Tar Heels demolished No. 24 Michigan by a 72-51 score in their Big Ten/ACC Challenge matchup Wednesday. Before Friday’s games, the Tar Heels were 11th in Division I in 3-point field-goal percentage (41.5%), just ahead of Tech in 16th at 40.7%. Guard Caleb Love was eighth in the ACC in scoring at 16.1 points per game and forward Armando Bacot was third in the league in rebounding at 9.4 points per game.

Either Davis can score a victory in his ACC debut (Williams did not) or Pastner will improve his record against the Tar Heels to an unlikely 4-2.

“They’re really good,” Pastner said. “And I think we’re a good team. So it should be a really good basketball game.”