CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Georgia Tech's 77-75 win over No. 1 ranked North Carolina in Sunday's championship game of the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament proved that when the Yellow Jackets play as a focused team, they can accomplish a great deal.
The Yellow Jackets have been one of the most schizophrenic teams in college basketball this season, able to beat the nation's best one night, but losing to teams such as the College of Charleston on another night.
But the sixth-seed in the ACC Tournament put together three solid games in a row and denied North Carolina its 13th ACC title.
The win improves Georgia Tech to 19-10 and vaulted the Yellow Jackets to a fourth seed in the NCAA's West Regional, where they will meet Southern University.
North Carolina fell to 28-4, and will probably be replaced by Indiana as the No. 1 ranked team in the country. But the loss did little to affect the Tar Heels' position in the NCAA Tournament. They are the top seed in the East Region and will face East Carolina at Winston-Salem, N. C. Thursday.
But for Georgia Tech coach Bobby Cremins, the win was extremely special because, according to sources, he will probably leave the school at the end of this season to accept the head coaching position at his alma mater, the University of South Carolina.
'It is an unbelievable feeling and this team has a lot to be proud of,' Cremins said. 'I'm shocked, I'm really shocked.
'Some times, the best things in life are unexpected and this is really unexpected.
'When you play against the best and win against the best, it's special. Those guys are sensational. We realized North Carolina did not have Derrick Phelps, but they played a great game.
'I'm really proud of this group. James Forrest was sensational. Forrest is a man now and he has to maintain that. He deserves to be MVP and he's a great player.'
Forrest, a 6-8 sophomore, scored 80 points over three games and won the Everett Case Award as the most outstanding player of the tournament. Forrest scored 27 points and pulled down 10 rebounds to frustrate North Carolina.
'I felt that in order for us to win, I had to step my game up and play as hard as I could,' Forrest said. 'I felt good coming into the tournament but in order for us to make it into the NCAA tournament, we had to come in and at least win one or two games.
'After we won the first one, we thought, why don't we win the second one? After we won that, it was, why don't we compete for the ACC title?
'We came in with the right attitude.'
Smith believes Georgia Tech is capable of achieving even loftier goals than winning the ACC Tournament.
'Don't be misled by their sixth-place finish in the ACC. This team could win the national championship,' Smith said. 'They are a tremendous rebounding team.'
The Tar Heels were playing without Phelps, who suffered a severely bruised sacrum bone (tailbone) in Saturday's semifinal win over Virginia. Phelps experienced numbness in his thighs and was unable to play in Sunday's championship game.
Phelps' NCAA status is undetermined.
'I think anybody who follows our team knows how important Derrick Phelps is defensively or offensively,' Smith said. 'I thought he played outstanding against Virginia.
'But it's Georgia Tech beating North Carolina. There won't be an asterisk next to it saying North Carolina didn't have Derrick Phelps.'
For North Carolina, Sunday's loss was another in a long line of tournament games where the Heels were heavily favored, but lost. North Carolina was in its sixth ACC title game in the last seven years, but during that time, the Heels have only won it twice.
'When the players try hard and fail, it's tough,' Smith said. 'We had a nice little run and we failed to pull it out. I thought we would and that would have really helped the team.'