ATLANTA -- The three seniors on the Georgia Tech basketball team get one more chance Tuesday to walk onto the court at McCamish Pavilion. It’s sure to be an emotional event, as senior night typically is.
But will that be enough against a team like North Carolina?
Saying farewell will be starters Demarco Cox and Robert Sampson, along with walk-on Aaron Peek.
Georgia Tech (12-17, 3-14 ACC) remembers the Tar Heels well. It was less than two weeks ago when the Yellow Jackets were routed by an emotional North Carolina team, which was playing its first game in Chapel Hill after the death of Tar Heels legend Dean Smith.
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That one ended 89-60 in favor of North Carolina, which has now won five straight against Georgia Tech. The Yellow Jackets get a chance to even the score and enter the ACC tournament with a good feeling.
“They played really well,” Georgia Tech head coach Brian Gregory. “We’ve got our job cut out for us.”
Because the teams played Feb. 21, things like defensive assignments are still fresh in the mind of the Georgia Tech players.
“But the negative is they beat us pretty good,” Gregory said. “Now you’re dealing with a confidence factor. But in this league, if you don’t play well over 40 minutes, you’re not going to win the game.”
In the two games since their loss to North Carolina (20-9, 10-6), the Yellow Jackets have lost two more close games: a one-point loss to No. 17 Louisville in which they blew a 13-0 second-half lead and an overtime loss at Clemson in which they overcame a 23-point first-half deficit before falling short.
North Carolina is led by point guard Marcus Paige, who had 13 points, 10 assists and four rebounds in the first meeting. Paige was one of six players who scored in double figures in that game.
“He’s still the No. 1 guy when you look on the scouting report,” Gregory said. “He’s been banged up all year. A lot of kids don’t play all year because of plantar fasciitis. If you’ve got to make a play at the end of the game, there’s not a coach in the conference who wouldn’t want the ball in his hand.”
Cox and Sampson have both played a large role on the team this year, their first and only season with the Yellow Jackets. Peek has played only two minutes all season.
Cox averages 8.6 points and 5.9 rebounds, and Sampson averages 5.3 points and 6.5 rebounds. Both play hard, are strong defensive players and have been especially helpful in the paint. But each has limitations on offense; Cox doesn’t have the best hands, and Sampson sometimes wanders too far outside, where his effectiveness is questionable.
The Yellow Jackets can finish no higher than 13th in the conference. Boston College and Virginia Tech, both 2-14 in the conference, could each catch Georgia Tech by winning their final game. Boston College finishes at home against Wake Forest on Saturday. Virginia Tech hosts Miami on Saturday in the season finale.
Boston College and Virginia Tech hold the tiebreaker over Georgia Tech because of head-to-head win over the Yellow Jackets.