There’s a tendency to categorize victories as moral wins, or signature victories or statement games.
Whatever you called Georgia Tech’s 71-70 victory over the #8 ranked North Carolina Tar Heels on Thursday night – a game decided in the final minute - there was one word you couldn’t leave out. Thrilling.
Georgia Tech freshman guard Tyaunna Marshall and senior guard/forward Alex Montgomery stepped up to score a combined 37 Georgia Tech points.
"Ty’s got a great situation," Georgia Tech head coach MaChelle Joseph said, "because [North Carolina] put their best defensive player on Alex, and Ty gets to play off of her."
For two evenly matched teams, each had to find their own challenge. For Georgia Tech, it was dealing with Carolina’s height and athleticism – the last few games played by Yellow Jackets were against much smaller teams that Georgia Tech could easily rough up. Attempts to find the open man with overhead passes were often stymied by the Tar Heels getting a few fingers on the throw, and North Carolina would often switch defenders to get the best defensive position.
"We were tipping it, we weren’t grabbing it," Joseph said. "And that’s one of the things we talked about at halftime. We got our hands on the ball, and I tell them, ‘if you can touch it, you can grab it.’ We got our hands on the ball, but we just had to make the second and third efforts to come up with the ball."
While Georgia Tech suffered with 12 first-half turnovers, the Tar Heels would run the baseline and Georgia Tech’s posts often found themselves overmatched – visiting North Carolina scored 24 of their 34 first-half points in the paint.
Unfortunately for the Tar Heels, their muscle wasn’t going unnoticed by the officials and Georgia Tech benefited from multiple trips to the foul line – North Carolina was whistled 12 times for team fouls in the 1st half, and the Yellow Jackets visited the line 20 times in the first half, hitting 16 shots. North Carolina senior forward Jessica Breland found herself in early foul trouble, and 6-6 sophomore forward/center Waltiea Rolle picked up the slack in the first half, leading the Heels with 10 first-half points. North Carolina’s bench would score 18 points, while Georgia Tech relied on the success of Marshall (10 points in the first half) and Montgomery (7 points, five rebounds).
The game stayed close through the beginning of the second half, with neither team moving a couple of baskets beyond the other. Georgia Tech relied upon the composure of Marshall and Montgomery, while North Carolina senior guard Italee Lucas was the playmaker for the Tar Heels. North Carolina would break through with a 7-0 run late in the game and lead 70-63 with 1:31 remaining.
Game over? No. With the 24-second clock almost down to zero, Marshall hit a 3-pointer with 1:04 left to close the gap to 70-66. Then, on an inbounds play with 42 seconds left, the Yellow Jackets forced a 5-second violation to get the ball back.
North Carolina head coach Sylvia Hatchell had a different impression than the officials. "It wasn’t even close to five. You can time it yourself. It wasn’t close to five. But hey, that’s the way it goes."
Regardless of the call Georgia Tech senior forward Deja Foster closed the score to 70-68 off a layup…and then Foster stole the ball from Jessica Breland and found senior point guard Metra Waltour who scored from 3-point range after missing three other 3-point tries that night.
"On the throw-in in a pressure situation, they know what to do. Jessica doesn’t even take the ball out of bounds," Hatchell said. "I don’t know why she did what she did.
"As [Foster] was driving it down, we had numbers," Walthour said, "and I spotted up and the first thing she said to me when she passed it was ‘knock it down’. So I knew that if she had that much confidence in me, I had to have that confidence in myself to take the shot, and I took it and it went in."
The Tar Heels had the ball back with 25 seconds left but Lucas missed a 3-pointer with seven seconds left on the clock. North Carolina got the ball back for one last time, but Jessica Breland missed the jumper to give the Yellow Jackets their first win against a ranked opponent since beating Georgia in Atlanta this year.
Tyaunna Marshall led Georgia Tech with 24 points in her first ACC game. Alex Montgomery scored 13 points and had nine rebounds, and Metra Walthour contributed 12 points and five assists to the victory.
Italee Lucas led the Tar Heels with 21 points on 9-for-17 shooting. Jessica Breland had 15 points but was held to five rebounds, and the Tar Heels as a whole only had 29 rebounds.
This was the fifth game 20+ point game this year for Tyaunna Marshall. Three of those games have been against ranked opponents (Connecticut, Georgia, North Carolina.)
Only six players for Georgia Tech had double-digits in minutes, and four starters played at least 30 minutes. MaChelle Joseph’s remark? "Welcome to the ACC."
North Carolina’s 29 rebounds were a season-low in rebounds. The previous low was 34 against Nevada-Las Vegas on December 12th.