ATLANTA -- The Dean Dome typically is a tough place for a visiting team to play. It just got a little tougher for Georgia Tech, which makes its annual visit to Chapel Hill, North Carolina, on Saturday to play No. 15 North Carolina.
The Yellow Jackets are playing a Tar Heels team that has lost four of its past five games, including overtime decisions to Louisville and Duke. So much for the notion of Georgia Tech slipping up from the bottom tier of the ACC to surprise head coach Roy Williams’ team.
Regardless of the obstacles, the Yellow Jackets are looking forward to the challenge.
“I like the way our guys are competing and playing,” Georgia Tech head coach Brian Gregory said. “Our practices have been good. It’s shown in our offensive efficiency. It’s shown in our defense, as well. What we need to do is continue that steady incline of performance.”
The Yellow Jackets (12-14, 3-11 ACC) have been more effective offensively recently. They shot 46.3 percent from the floor against Clemson on Monday. In the eight games since a dreadful 28-point performance against Virginia, Georgia Tech has scored 63 more points seven times.
“We’re pushing the ball and playing at a better pace,” Gregory said. “Even in the halfcourt, the pace we’re playing is much more effective for us.”
The Yellow Jackets are led by Marcus Georges-Hunt, who averages 13.8 points and 5.7 rebounds, and the inside duo of Charles Mitchell (10 points, 6.8 rebounds) and Demarco Cox (8.8 points, 6.0 rebounds).
The Yellow Jackets will be without guard Chris Bolden, who was suspended for the remainder of the season for a violation of a school policy. Bolden had been playing well; he was averaging 6.9 points and giving the team some needed perimeter punch.
North Carolina (18-8, 8-5 ACC) is led by point guard Marcus Page, a 6-foot-1 junior who has played all season with plantar fasciitis but leads the team with 32.2 minutes. Page leads the team in scoring (13.6 points), assists (4.2), steals (1.6) and 3-point shooting (37.4 percent) and is second in free throw shooting (82.9 percent).
“Everything they do goes through him,” Gregory said.
The Tar Heels have plenty of other skilled players, including 6-9 forward Brice Johnson (12.7 points, 8.0 rebounds) and 6-9 sophomore Kennedy Meeks (12.7 points, 7.6 rebounds). Freshman Justin Jackson (9.5 points, 3.7 rebounds) and junior J.P. Tokoto (8.8 points, 5.2 rebounds) round out the starting lineup.
“They’re North Carolina,” Gregory said. “They’ve got great size. They’ve physical. They have a great combination, either big and physical or long and athletic. They have great versatility in the ways they can play you.”
North Carolina is one of the few teams that can match Georgia Tech’s inside bulk. The Tar Heels can throw around their weight to offset any advantages that Cox and Mitchell may enjoy.
“We have to do a great job on the glass, a great job on transition and our offense will have to be very efficient, because they’ll turn any mistake into a basket on the other end,” Gregory said.