GREENSBORO, N.C. (AP) — Derrick Favors had 18 points, nine rebounds and five blocks to help Georgia Tech hold off North Carolina 62-58 in the first round of the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament Thursday night.
Gani Lawal added 12 points for the seventh-seeded Yellow Jackets (20-11), who had to fight the entire way to earn a needed victory for their shaky NCAA tournament chances. Georgia Tech trailed by 13 points in the first half against a team it had swept during the regular season, but rallied early in the second half to tie the game before finally pushing ahead in the final 4 minutes.
Favors had a huge game, hitting his first seven shots while coming up with a key block of Tyler Zeller's layup attempt to tie it with about 2 minutes left.
Zeller had 17 points and 10 rebounds to lead the 10th-seeded Tar Heels (16-16), who lost their tournament opener for the first time since falling to Georgia Tech in the 2004 quarterfinals.
Georgia Tech advanced to Friday's quarterfinals to face No. 19 Maryland, the tournament's No. 2 seed.
In many ways, the game illustrated the kind of season both teams have had to this point. The Yellow Jackets did just enough to keep themselves alive in the ACC tournament, while the defending national champion Tar Heels just weren't good enough — particularly on the perimeter — when the game came down to the critical final minutes.
D'Andre Bell put the Yellow Jackets ahead for good with a jumper for a 58-56 lead with 4:04 left. A few minutes later, Favors wiped away Zeller's seemingly easy putaway, and Lawal corralled a loose ball and hit a hook shot to beat the shot clock and make it 60-56 with 1:44 to play.
Trailing by four in the final seconds, the Tar Heels managed a final desperation possession with Larry Drew II missing a 3-pointer and Will Graves airballing one of his own a few seconds later to seal Georgia Tech's victory. North Carolina failed to hit a field goal in the final 5 minutes, part of a 33 percent shooting day.
The Tar Heels had won two straight games before last weekend, when Duke unleashed plenty of pent-up frustration and ended North Carolina's four-year winning streak at Cameron Indoor Stadium in humiliating fashion: a 32-point beating that could have been much, much worse.
That sent North Carolina's players into this week's tournament with the knowledge that their NCAA tournament chances were reduced to an unprecedented four-wins-in-four-days run through Greensboro. Not to mention their first-round foe had swept the season series, including a lopsided win in Atlanta in the last meeting.
While Zeller responded, the Tar Heels' perimeter didn't, going a combined 6 for 34 from the field and 1 for 15 from 3-point range to provide Zeller and Deon Thompson (10 points) little help.
(This version CORRECTS Georgia Tech 62, North Carolina 58. corrects that Bell hit go-ahead shot with 4 minutes left sted Peacock; MINOR edit to lede)