ATLANTA — Georgia Tech coach MaChelle Joseph is glad she scheduled a difficult stretch of games for her team last month.
Despite losing to established winners like Connecticut and Tennessee, Joseph believes her Yellow Jackets are better for the experience.
"Playing that tough schedule early helped us and that's because nothing North Carolina did tonight surprised us," Joseph said. "They're a very, very good team, but weren't surprised by their effort and their size and their strength on the inside.
Metra Walthour hit the go-ahead 3-pointer with 23.6 seconds remaining, freshman Tyaunna Marshall scored 24 points and Georgia Tech beat No. 8 North Carolina 71-70 on Thursday night.
Jessica Breland, who missed a jumper at the buzzer, hit a pair of free throws to give the Tar Heels (15-1, 0-1 Atlantic Coast Conference) a seven-point lead with 1:40 left, but North Carolina didn't score again.
"When you're up by seven with a minute to go, you're not supposed to lose, but this is probably an indication of how the ACC will be," Tar Heels coach Sylvia Hatchell said. "We've got to regroup because we have to play at Boston College on Sunday."
Georgia Tech (13-4, 1-0) has won 10 straight. The Yellow Jackets scored eight points in the final minute on Marshall's 3-pointer, Deja Foster's basket and Walthour's 3.
Italee Lucas led North Carolina with 21 points and Breland finished with 15.
Alex Montgomery added 13 for Georgia Tech, which won its third straight at home over North Carolina, but beat the Tar Heels for the just third time in the last 17 meetings.
"We set the schedule up the way we did because we want a better seed in the NCAA tournament," Joseph said. "To get a better seed, you've got to play ranked teams and you've got to beat them. We've got a lot more ranked teams to play, but obviously this is a great start for us."
Montgomery, who usually leads the Jackets in scoring, had little room to get off a shot against North Carolina's box-in-one defense. But she still found plenty of ways to help, pulling down a game-high nine rebounds.
North Carolina, which ranked in the top 10 in NCAA rebounding margin, was outworked 39-29 on the boards.
"Coach kept telling us that we have to box out," Montgomery said. "You can't out-jump them. You have to box out, and that's what we did."
After Frida Fogdemark's 3-pointer put Georgia Tech ahead 55-51 with 9:13 remaining, the Tar Heels went on a 17-6 run that ended on Breland's transition jumper.
North Carolina called two timeouts in the final 3.7 before Breland's 14-footer missed the rim and the Yellow Jackets started celebrating.
Hatchell disputed a 5-second call that went against the Tar Heels' Tierra Ruffin-Pratt with 42.5 seconds left in the game.
"It wasn't even close to five," Hatchell said. "You could've timed it yourself. It wasn't even close to five, but hey, that's the way it goes."
After Foster scored, she stole a pass in Georgia Tech's full-court press defense and fed Walthour for a 3 from the left corner.
"I could see that we had numbers," Walthour said, "and the first thing she said to me when she passed it was, 'Knock it down."'
Georgia Tech's 10-game winning streak is its longest under eighth-year coach Joseph. The Jackets haven't lost since dropping three straight to Connecticut, Georgetown and Tennessee.
"We talked about how we had to play relentless on both ends until the buzzer, and I thought we did that tonight," Joseph said. "Obviously I'm very proud of them."