ATLANTA — Brian Gregory remained firm in his belief his Georgia Tech team was improving even as it lost its first five Atlantic Coast Conference games.
Proof of that improvement finally came in a surprising blowout win.
Robert Carter Jr. scored a career-high 20 points, including seven in Georgia Tech’s 16-0 run to open the game, and the Yellow Jackets beat Wake Forest 82-62 on Saturday for their first ACC win.
“This is definitely a big relief but we’re not going to settle right now,” Carter said.
Carter, a 6-foot-8 freshman, made nine of 10 shots from the field, including two 3-pointers.
Georgia Tech (11-7, 1-5) was never threatened as it became the last ACC team to win its first conference game. It kept its leads in double figures for the final 38 minutes.
Gregory said his players didn’t lose faith during their 0-5 start in the league.
“I felt over the last few weeks with a very difficult start to the schedule that it was going to be very important for our guys to stay strong and keep working and plugging along, and that’s exactly what they’ve done,” Gregory said.
“Being able to stick to their work ethic and stick to playing team basketball is a tribute to these players.”
Georgia Tech matched its wins in its 11-20 finish last season, its first under Gregory. The first conference win was the more important goal.
“In this league, until you get that first one you never know when it’s going to come, because it’s so difficult,” Gregory said.
C.J. Harris had 18 points for Wake Forest (10-9, 3-4), which fell to 0-4 in road conference games. The Demon Deacons fell flat following their 86-84 upset of No. 18 North Carolina State on Tuesday night.
Wake Forest coach Jeff Bzedelik said his players were still savoring the in-state rivalry win over N.C. State instead of focusing on Georgia Tech.
“As a head coach I didn’t do a good job of changing that mindset coming off the win the other evening,” Bzedelik said, adding his players were “very lethargic” while Georgia Tech was “very desperate in its energy.”
“Our hat is off to them,” said Bzedelik of Georgia Tech. “They simply wanted this game much more than we did, which is a real sad testimony.”
The Yellow Jackets made four of six 3-pointers in the 16-0 run and pushed the lead to 30 points at 37-7 on a 3-pointer by another freshman, Marcus Georges-Hunt.
The Demon Deacons never recovered.
“That was the game right there,” Harris said. “It’s hard to come into someone else’s house and get down 16-0 and expect to come back.”
The Demon Deacons closed the first half with a 7-0 run to trail 52-29 at the break. Georgia Tech then was scoreless for almost 5 minutes to open the second half, but Wake Forest, which managed only five points in the span, couldn’t seize the opportunity.
After Wake Forest cut the deficit to 18 points, Carter’s 3-pointer pushed the lead to 57-36.
“We just wanted to keep our foot on the pedal,” said freshman Chris Bolden, who had nine points.
“We didn’t come out as strong as we did in the first half, but we also didn’t let up and let them back in the game.”
Bolden had 3-pointers at the start and end of the opening 16-0 run. Bolden made only his third start.
“You don’t have to tell Chris to look for a shot,” Gregory said. “He’s an aggressive scorer, and that’s good. We really need that.”
The Demon Deacons had a 9-0 run midway through the half, including back-to-back baskets by Arnaud William Adala Moto, to pull with 67-49. Georges-Hunt ended the run with a 3-pointer.
Georgia Tech, which ranks 10th in the ACC and 239th in the nation with its average of 64.9 points per game, had its most first-half points of the season. It finished with a scoring high for a conference game.
Georges-Hunt had 12 points. Mfon Ufofia had nine points.
Each team started three freshmen.
Wake Forest freshman forward Devin Thomas, who scored a season-high 25 points with 14 rebounds and four blocked shots in the win over N.C. State, had eight points and 13 rebounds. Thomas made only three of 10 shots from the field and committed seven turnovers, including six in the first half.
Travis McKie had 10 points and Codi Miller-McIntyre had nine for the Demon Deacons, who made only 35.1 percent of their shots (20 of 57) from the field.
Carter’s previous high was 19 points against UNC Wilmington.