CHAPEL HILL, N.C. - Jose Alvarado and Georgia Tech pounced to build a big lead when North Carolina missed from all over the court to start Saturday night's game. The Yellow Jackets didn't lose control, either, no matter how many comeback pushes the Tar Heels tried to muster.
To listen to coach Josh Pastner, maybe it's a sign that the Yellow Jackets are regrouping from a bumpy stretch that coincided with Alvarado being hurt.
The junior point guard had a season-high 25 points to help Georgia Tech beat UNC 96-83, earning its first win in Chapel Hill since 2010 while preventing Tar Heels coach Roy Williams from passing late mentor Dean Smith on the all-time men's career coaching wins list.
The Yellow Jackets (7-7, 2-2 Atlantic Coast Conference) shot 59% on a night that began with them jumping to a 27-4 lead as the Tar Heels missed their first 15 shots. From there, it was simply a matter of playing with confidence to protect a huge lead while UNC frantically tried to dig its way out from its biggest halftime deficit (20 points) in its 34-year history in the Smith Center.
Georgia Tech has won three of five since Alvarado's return from an ankle sprain that sidelined him for seven of eight games.
"He's been back for five games," Pastner said, "and we've been a better team with him back."
It certainly helped that the Tar Heels (8-6, 1-2) couldn't shoot straight to start this one. UNC didn't manage a field goal until Garrison Brooks finally put one in from the post at the 6:59 mark with the Tar Heels down 24.
Alvarado said the team wanted to "keep on going, because they could go on a run at any time, which they did. ... So we just kept on trying to push the lead and push the lead."
UNC, which trailed 47-27 at halftime, got within nine early in the second half but no closer even with Brooks going for a career-high 35 points along with 11 rebounds.
It prompted Williams to apologize to UNC fans in his postgame comments, saying the Tar Heels "stunk it up" early and adding he was so upset that he wanted to make them run sprints at halftime.
"We need to have better leadership, we need to have more toughness," Williams said. "Sometimes I've felt like I could supply that and I don't know that I've supplied any of that with this group."
Georgia Tech: The Yellow Jackets' struggles without Alvarado included a 34-point blowout home loss in league play to Syracuse on Dec. 7. But Alvarado had eight assists and six steals in this one. He also hit four 3-pointers after making just 5 of 27 (.185) coming in, including two against the 6-foot-9 Brooks on defensive switches.
UNC: The Tar Heels have had their offensive troubles this season, particularly with star freshman Cole Anthony expected to be out with a knee injury until the second half of January. They had 56 second-half points, yet the defense couldn't get stops as Georgia Tech continued answering every surge with a basket or two to stay in control.
"That part was just tough," Brooks said of the early struggles, "because you're really trying to force it to go into the basket. And that's not how it works."
Things got so bad that the timeout-hoarding Williams finally burned one with his team down 19-2 at the 11:54 mark.
He then spent much of the stoppage standing in the back of the huddle fuming with his arms folded while longtime assistant Steve Robinson talked to the team. Williams soon stepped to the middle and never took his normal seat as he emphatically pointed and clapped his hands angrily from one side of the huddle to the other.
It didn't change much considering Brooks didn't hit UNC's first field goal for another five minutes.
Moses Wright had 22 points on 9-for-13 shooting for Georgia Tech. ... Brandon Robinson (12 points) and Justin Pierce (11) were UNC's only other double-figure scorers. ... Brooks hit 17 of 18 free throws and drew a hearty ovation from a frustrated home crowd when he fouled out with 2:21 left. ... Williams entered the game tied with Smith for fourth all-time with 879 career victories.
Georgia Tech: The Yellow Jackets host No. 2 Duke on Wednesday.
UNC: The Tar Heels host Pittsburgh on Wednesday.