ATLANTA - In assessing North Carolina, Georgia Tech basketball coach Paul Hewitt pointed out that when the Tar Heels get in trouble, they go to Joseph Forte.
So after the Heels trailed Georgia Tech 44-32 at halftime Tuesday night in both schools' ACC opener, Hewitt was not surprised when Forte took control out of the locker room and sparked North Carolina to an 84-70 win at Alexander Memorial Coliseum.
Forte, the second-leading scorer in the ACC, finished with a team-high 20 points, 11 in the first eight minutes of the second half, when the 13th-ranked Heels went from trailing by 12 to leading by four. They never really looked back.
"He's a great player, and we talked about the fact that he could put them on his back," Hewitt said. "Even though we were doing some things to try to shut down their inside guys, you still have to find him in the halfcourt, and definitely in the transition."
North Carolina (10-2 overall, 1-0 ACC) won its fifth straight over Georgia Tech and ninth in the past 10 meetings with the Yellow Jackets.
Center Kris Lang added 18 for the Heels, while Tony Akins led all scorers with 23. Halston Lane added 11 and Shaun Fein 10 for the Jackets.
Georgia Tech (8-4, 0-1) managed just seven field goals and 23 percent shooting in the second half.
"We work on (perimeter shooting) all the time," Fein said. "We shouldn't struggle as we did."
North Carolina fashioned a 14-5 lead during the first five minutes on the strength of scoring from Jason Capel and Lang, whose scoring and rebounds more than compensated for a scoreless night from teammate Brendan Haywood.
"I've been riding Kris," said North Carolina coach Matt Doherty, who along with Hewitt made his ACC coaching debut. "I asked him the other day if he wanted me off his back, and he just told me I was doing my job."
The Jackets made 60 percent of their 3-point shots in the first half but cooled off after halftime, and Hewitt said the abated shooting had a ripple effect.
"We had some good looks at the basket early in the second half, but we couldn't get them to go in, and our transition defense broke down after that," Hewitt said.
Part of Georgia Tech's shooting woes stemmed from the fact that guard Tony Akins did not take a shot during the first 12 minutes of the second half.
"The first half we were working the ball inside to Alvin (Jones), and he was kicking it back out," Akins said. "In the second half I guess they made it their focus not to leave me open."
Georgia Tech appeared to have control of the game after a 24-3 first-half run, holding the Tar Heels without a field goal for more than seven minutes.
Georgia Tech freshman Marvin Lewis provided the highlight of the run with a steal at midcourt and a spinning layup to tie the score at 14.
The Jackets pushed ahead on the strength of their perimeter shooting. Akins, who had 13 of his points in the opening half, hit two 3-pointers, Halston Lane had one and Fein had another to make it 25-16 with 10:23 left in the half.
The Jackets had their own stretch without a field goal, a span of 6:48 that ended with Akins' 3-pointer with 29 seconds to play before intermission.
Georgia Tech led by 12 on five occasions in the first half, including intermission, when it led 44-32.
North Carolina scored the first 10 points of the second half to cut the lead to two, and a 16-5 run capped by Julius Peppers' free throw at the 11:49 mark gave the Heels a 58-53 edge.
The Jackets kept the game close until the 8:46 mark, when Michael Isenhour hit the first of two free throws, but North Carolin put the game away with a 14-3 run, marking its biggest lead with 3:12 left when Max Owens scored for a 77-61 cushion.
Owens added 17 points for North Carolina, which turned the ball over just twice in the second half after 11 give-aways before halftime.