CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — Facing a last-place team and with a nationally ranked neighborhood rival looming ahead, North Carolina certainly could have looked past Georgia Tech.
Instead the Tar Heels came up with the closest thing they've had to a complete game in a while.
They led from start to finish of their third consecutive victory, a 79-63 rout of the Yellow Jackets on Wednesday night.
"We just came out and played a whole game — finally," big man James Michael McAdoo said.
Reggie Bullock scored 17 points, P.J. Hairston had 15 points and McAdoo added 14 for North Carolina (13-5, 3-2 Atlantic Coast Conference).
"I see our team gelling together — people knowing their roles, people knowing what they're capable of doing," Bullock said. "So it's just going out there and just playing the game that coach (Roy Williams) recruited them to play."
With former star Rashad McCants watching from behind their bench in a McAdoo jersey, the Tar Heels shot nearly 43 percent (30 of 70) to move above .500 in league play for the first time this season.
Next up: A visit to No. 18 North Carolina State on Saturday night.
"I wasn't thinking about that game at all," McAdoo said. "As a team, we knew we had to show up and be ready to play today, and that's what we did."
Kammeon Holsey had 10 of his 18 points in the first half, but the Yellow Jackets (10-7, 0-5) had 19 turnovers and lost their fifth straight to remain the only team winless in ACC play.
"It's an unforgiving league for young guys trying to grow up," coach Brian Gregory said.
His team trimmed a 13-point deficit to 36-32 on Solomon Poole's 3-pointer with 2 minutes left in the half.
Bullock — who had a career-high 24 points last time out against Maryland — started and finished the ensuing 15-2 run with buckets from close range. His no-you-take-it layup from Marcus Paige gave the Tar Heels their largest lead to that point, 49-34, with 17Â½ minutes to go.
Georgia Tech never got closer than 11 the rest of the way, and Hairston punctuated this one with a thunderous dunk over Daniel Miller with about 6 minutes left that made it 70-53.
"We could never get that break — a big defensive rebound when we needed it, a big basket," Gregory said. "Our margin of error is small. We don't have to play perfect, but we have to play pretty darn well."
Chris Bolden finished with 10 points while Robert Carter had 12 rebounds and Marcus Georges-Hunt added 10 boards for Georgia Tech, which lost at each of the points in the North Carolina Triangle - N.C. State, Duke and now UNC - in a stretch of 15 nights.
Dexter Strickland and Paige each finished with six assists for North Carolina, and the only thing its students love as much a Tar Heel victory is a Duke loss. One held a handwritten sign saying only "didDukewin.com" while another one nearby held a sign that said simply "No" because a few minutes before this one tipped off, No. 25 Miami polished off a 90-63 rout of the top-ranked Blue Devils.
When that score went up on the video board during a timeout, the crowd followed with a loud, sustained ovation and the students chanted "Go to hell, Duke!"
Then the Tar Heels themselves got clicking, building their first double-figure lead while holding Georgia Tech without a field goal for 4Â½ minutes. McAdoo's dunk from the baseline with 9Â½ minutes left put them up 25-15 and brought McCants — who starred on the 2005 national championship team — to his feet.
"I saw that — I was like, 'Whoa, that's kind of weird to see him wearing that,'" McAdoo said with a smile. "He's one of the greatest to ever play here at North Carolina and it's always good to have guys like him come back during the season."
The lead grew to 13 on Bullock's 3-pointer with 8 minutes left before the Yellow Jackets rallied.
Earlier in the day, the Tar Heels found out they'll be without junior guard Leslie McDonald for three more games. He missed the previous three games with a knee injury, but was suspended for three more after Williams said he "did not do what we expect of our student-athletes."