EVANSTON, Ill. — If coach Brian Gregory has any criticism of Josh Heath, it's that the sophomore point guard sometimes doesn't look to shoot enough.
But with Georgia Tech on the verge of blowing a big lead Wednesday night, Heath stepped up to make two big baskets in the final 2:30 and the Yellow Jackets fought off a late Northwestern charge for a 66-58 victory in an ACC/Big Ten Challenge game.
"On both of those plays, he made really good decisions," Gregory said. "Josh has been tremendous for us. A huge boost and lift for this program."
Heath finished with 12 points and five assists in just 19 minutes off the bench. He was 6 for 6 from the field. Both of his clutch baskets were floaters where he pulled up from about 12 feet and dropped the ball through the hoop.
"I just wanted to take what the defense was giving me," he said. "I just felt like my floaters were going down. They were there. I took them."
Charles Mitchell had a team-high 13 points and Robert Sampson added 11 points as the Yellow Jackets (6-1) won their third straight.
Alex Olah led Northwestern with 19 points and 10 rebounds and Tre Demps added 14 points. The Wildcats (5-2) trailed by as much as 18 points and were down 12 with six minutes left before rallying to pull within a point with a little more than a minute to go.
"I was really surprised the way we started the game," Northwestern coach Chris Collins said. "For whatever reason, we just came out really flat. You cannot spot a good team 20 points and expect to win. We're down 20-2 before we started playing."
Indeed, Georgia Tech quickly took command with a run of 18 straight points for a 20-2 advantage less than seven minutes into the game. Northwestern was scoreless for 6:02, going 0 for 8 with four turnovers during that stretch.
The Yellow Jackets had a 31-18 halftime lead. The 18 points were a season-low in a half for Northwestern. The previous low was 20 against Northern Iowa.
NU was 8 for 29 (27.6 percent), including 1 for 12 on 3-pointers, in the first half.
In the second half, the Wildcats finally developed some offensive consistency.
Trailing 53-41, Northwestern charged back with a 10-2 run to make it 55-51 with 3:30 to play. Heath broke the run with a basket for a 57-53 edge with 2:23 remaining, but NU answered with five straight — capped by an Olah 3-pointer — to close the gap to 57-56 with 1:18 remaining.
Heath, though, answered again at the other end with a hoop and a foul with 55.5 seconds to go. He missed a free throw to keep it a one-possession game (59-56), but NU missed a quick 3-pointer and Georgia Tech closed things out from the free-throw line.
Georgia Tech: Coach Brian Gregory is a native of nearby Mt. Prospect, Illinois, and was a Northwestern assistant during the 1997-98 and the 1998-99 seasons.
Northwestern: This was the third time in the last five years the teams had met in the ACC/Big Ten challenge with the Wildcats winning each of the previous two meetings in 2010 and 2011.
NU had rallied from late deficits for wins in the previous two home games against Elon and North Florida, but couldn't make it three in a row.
"That's so frustrating," Olah said of starting slow. "We've got to fix that. We have to come together as a team and figure out why we're doing that. We've got to throw the first punch. We can't let the other team build their confidence and then try and get back in the game and then try to win the game at the end."
Georgia Tech hosts South Carolina Upstate on Saturday.
Northwestern plays at Butler on Saturday.