ATLANTA — At times Saturday Georgia Tech looked like the team that struggled last season, but freshman Robert Carter Jr. had career highs of 19 points and nine rebounds as the Yellow Jackets executed like veterans late in a 73-66 win over UNC Wilmington.
The Yellow Jackets hemmed in Seahawks forward Keith Rendleman, who scored just six points on 3-for-13 shooting. Georgia Tech's defensive approach left space on the perimeter, though, and UNC Wilmington guards Chris Dixon (20 points off the bench), Tanner Milson (16) and Craig Ponder (seven) used it.
Georgia Tech (6-2) trailed 62-57 when UNC Wilmington (4-5) reserve forward Nate Anderson hit a 3-pointer — the Seahawks' ninth — with 5:20 left.
After a timeout by Georgia Tech coach Brian Gregory, the Yellow Jackets scored the next nine points — all by freshmen — for a lead they never lost. In their 16-4 run to close the game, the Yellow Jackets had an 8-3 rebounding edge.
Gregory wasn't happy that his team was outrebounded for the fifth straight game, this time 34-32, "but I am pleased with our performance at the end," he said.
Georgia Tech's leading scorers for the season, senior point guard Mfon Udofia (seven points) and junior forward Kam Holsey, combined for just nine points yet the Yellow Jackets' three freshman combined for 34 points and 14 rebounds as foul-plagued forward Marcus Georges-Hunt added 10 points and five rebounds and guard Chris Bolden scored five.
Georges-Hunt's jumper started the Yellow Jackets' late 9-0 run out of the time out, and after grabbing a defensive rebound moments later, he added two free throws. Carter's free throw tied the game at 62 with 3:45 left, and then he stuck back an offensive rebound to give Georgia Tech the lead for good with 3:10 to go.
Brandon Reed poked the ball away from Ponder moments later, leading to a dunk at the other end by Carter for a 66-62 edge.
Dixon, Milson and Ponder all played at least 32 minutes, and while they combined for 43 points, they were limited to a pair of Dixon free throws over the final 5:57.
"I probably wore our guards out with the playing time," said UNC Wilmington coach Buzz Peterson. "They did a nice job on (Rendleman) with their size ... so we tried to get our guards to drive the ball."
Carter made 8 of 12 shots and helped the Yellow Jackets outscore the Seahawks 34-18 in the paint. Center Daniel Miller added 12 points for Georgia Tech, 10 coming in the second half.
"Coach keeps emphasizing rebounding every day because if we rebound, there's no telling how good we can become," said Carter. "We're winning right now even though rebounding is a problem. Every timeout, coach was on us, telling us to pound the glass."
The Yellow Jackets appeared to be cruising in the first half as Carter scored eight points to stake Georgia Tech to a 22-13 lead on his layup with 8:28 remaining.
UNC Wilmington closed the half with a 23-13 run, however, and when Milson rebounded his own missed shot and followed with a 15-foot jumper just before the buzzer, the Seahawks took a 36-35 lead to halftime.
Georgia Tech outscored UNC Wilmington 10-2 to start the second half for a 45-37 lead, whereupon Georges-Hunt committed his third foul. Upon his exit, the Seahawks moved forward for a 55-51 lead on Milson's fourth 3-pointer with 9:26 left.
After re-entering, Georges-Hunt's four-point play with 8:35 left after Milson fouled him tied the game at 55. It stayed there until Georges-Hunt committed his fourth foul and left with 7:48 on the clock.
The Seahawks surged to a 62-57 lead before Georges-Hunt re-entered.