Reeling Yellow Jackets welcome No. 3 North Carolina

Georgia Tech head coach Damon Stoudamire reacts in the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Virginia Tech, Saturday, Jan. 27, 2024, in Blacksburg, Va. (Matt Gentry/The Roanoke Times via AP)

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

Georgia Tech head coach Damon Stoudamire reacts in the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Virginia Tech, Saturday, Jan. 27, 2024, in Blacksburg, Va. (Matt Gentry/The Roanoke Times via AP)

Teams going in opposite directions clash at McCamish Pavilion Tuesday when Georgia Tech hosts the third-ranked Tar Heels of North Carolina.

Tech has dropped three in a row and eight of nine. North Carolina has won 10 straight since a Dec. 16 loss to Kentucky. The Heels (17-3, 9-0 ACC) are all alone atop the league standings (2 1/2 games ahead of rival Duke) while the Yellow Jackets barely have their heads above water in second-to-last place.

Tuesday’s task for Tech (9-11, 2-7 ACC) is unquestionably a monumental one.

“The message going into (Tuesday) is strictly one thing: get back in transition. Carolina is a team that can run off points in a hurry,” Stoudamire said Monday about the matchup. “They have a guy that can really score the ball, it’s like watching myself on film expect it’s the right-hand version. (Guard RJ) Davis is a really good player, can really score, knows how to get downhill and can score in a variety of ways.

“We have to get back and we gotta sprint back because we can’t have the mismatches. That’s where they get you a lot of the times – in transition, you’re not sprinting back and you got bigs on the guards, the guards on the bigs and then that’s a recipe for disaster against them.”

Stoudamire’s team had the bottom fall out Saturday in a 91-67 loss at Virginia Tech. In six conference defeats prior the Jackets had kept the outcome within an average of eight points. But the Hokies dominated from the outset, leading for all but a 44-second stretch when the Jackets were up 5-2 early in the first half.

Virginia Tech made 12 3-pointers, went 15 of 17 from the line, had five of its eight scorers reach double figures, converted eight dunks and 16 layups while making the Jackets look more like an easy, early-season nonconference opponent than a formidable ACC one.

In the immediate aftermath of the humbling defeat, Stoudamire lamented his team’s inability to be mentally strong when the going gets tough. On Monday, though, Stoudamire still appeared confident his side could play at a high level moving forward.

“The crazy thing about it is, I have a weird team. I love my team, but I have a weird team,” he laughed. “If you actually look at the all the teams in the conference, we’ve probably had some of the best victories of any other teams. It’s not easy to go to Clemson and win, to beat Duke is not easy and then we beat Mississippi State. We have some good victories.”

North Carolina has some quality victories - and lots of wins overall - as well. The Heels head into the final week of January with an NCAA NET ranking of eight and look to be a lock for a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.

Coach Hubert Davis’ squad is the ACC’s best at getting to the free throw line (and making those free throws), defensive rebounds and total rebounds. Davis (21.1 ppg) leads four Heels averaging double figures in scoring and senior center Armando Bacot (13.6 ppg, 10 rpg) already has eight double-doubles this season.

Bacot and junior forward Harrison Ingram (12.4 ppg, 8.6 rpg) will be a major problem for a Tech defense which has struggled to stop teams from scoring inside. ACC opponents are averaging 33.1 points per game in the paint against Tech’s defense this season.

North Carolina is 9-0 in league play for the first time since the 2000-01 season. It has a three-game winning streak over Tech, which is calling for its fans to create a white out for the 7 p.m. home tipoff. The Jackets will need that homecourt advantage, and then some, to try to spring the upset.

“(UNC forces) you to score over them. I think that they do a great job in ball screens, they do a great job in getting back in transition,” Stoudamire added. “They limit you. You only get one crack at it. I think they have one of the lowest assist rates defensively in the country. They make you play a lot of one-on-one. You start to fall into a bit of a trap. Then that allows them to get out in transition where they’ll really good in transition.”

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