Heels rediscover outside shot vs. Jackets

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. -- You knew it was going to be that kind of night Sunday when North Carolina freshman Stilman White, in only his second game at back-up point guard, faked Georgia Tech’s Pierre Jordan into tripping over his own feet. And then buried a 3-pointer.

“I don’t think I’ve ever done that before,’’ White said after the eighth-ranked Tar Heels easily topped Georgia Tech 93-81, in a game that seemed a lot more lopsided than the score.

White was referring to the foe-falling move (which was already on youtube an hour after the game). But he also contributed to something that UNC had not yet done this season in ACC play: consistently connect from the outside.

“It was good to see those shots go down,’’ said sophomore Harrison Barnes, who led all scorers with 23 points. “But we always had confidence that they would."

The Tar Heels, who had made only 20 3-pointers in their five previous league games combined (and were shooting only 24.7 percent from behind the arc), were 10-for-16 (for a season-high 62.5 percent) from 3-point land against the Jackets.

Coach Roy Williams, whose team had shot 39 percent from long distance in non-conference play, kept insisting all month that UNC boasted good shooters. Finally, they showed themselves again.

“We make a bunch of them in practice, all the time,’’ he said. “So I’ve said that the whole time that I thought that -- I believe that -- when we started making them it would make things even a lot prettier."

It certainly made things a lot easier at the Smith Center, against a rebuilding Georgia Tech team that has now lost five straight, and nine of its past 10.

UNC’s 3-point onslaught began with point guard Kendall Marshall, who opened the game with a 3-pointer to make it 3-0. Although that marked the sophomore's only 3-pointer, he helped his teammates connect from long distance and had 12 assists and one turnover.

He found Barnes for a 3-pointer to make it 8-2.

Then he found Reggie Bullock, making his second start at point guard, behind the arc to make it 11-4.

Then he found Bullock for another 3 to make it 16-7.

By halftime, Marshall had assisted on all but two of his team’s eight 3-pointers (Bullock assisted on White’s 3, and Tyler Zeller passed to Marshall for his long shot), giving UNC a 52-32 lead.

“When you have Barnes, when you have Bullock, when you have Hairston coming off the bench, those guys can all shoot the 3 pretty well,’’ first-year Tech coach Brian Gregory said. “So they are not a bad shooting team, but you have to do a little better job of defending them.

“But all those 3s came from Marshall, to be honest with you.”

Well, almost all of them.

“They were wide open shots,’’ Marshall said. “I don't think we took many contested shots in the first half. It all started with getting stops on the defensive end, and then we have the advantage … [because they have to make the] choice of if they want to stop me, stop the bigs or stop the wings. And they kept leaving the wings open.”

Williams (who received a technical with 18:08 left to play after getting frustrated by a no-call) said his team kept the Yellow Jackets too open for his liking in the second half, as Georgia Tech shot 54.8 percent after halftime and whittled down a 24-point deficit.

But in the end, UNC held Tech leading scorer Glen Rice Jr. (slowed by a right big toe injury suffered in practice this week) to four points on 2-for-7 shooting, and out-rebounded the Yellow Jackets by four.

Zeller chipped in 17 points for UNC, while forward John Henson (13 points, six rebounds) passed Sam Perkins to move into second place on UNC’s all-time blocks list. He swatted four Jackets' shots.

But the most important stat of the night for the Tar Heels was their improved 3-point shooting, something they need they need to swish consistently to be a balanced offensive threat.

“We just concentrated on our shots and just were able to knock shots down,’’ Bullock said. “With Kendall looking up the floor, he tells us just run to our spots and he's going to find us. We just got our feet set and followed through.”

Or, in the case of White, un-settled a defender's feet before following through.

Follow Robbi Pickeral on Twitter at @bylinerp.