CHAPEL HILL - Will Graves did everything he could to help North Carolina come back against Georgia Tech.
The only thing he couldn't do was hit a desperation 3-pointer at the buzzer, and the 12th-ranked Tar Heels lost their second-straight game, falling 73-71 to the No. 20 Yellow Jackets.
Carolina (12-6, 1-2 in the ACC) overcame a 20-point deficit to take the lead in the final minutes before handing it back to the Yellow Jackets (13-4, 2-2) with 28 seconds remaining.
But it was everything that happened before the comeback that had UNC coach Roy Williams frustrated.
"You can't expect things to be given to you," Williams said. "In the ACC, you have to play and you have to take things. You have to compete."
Graves scored a career-high 24 points, his first 20-point game since his last contest as a high school senior - a game that also took place at the Smith Center.
It was also the most points by any Carolina player this season, and the Tar Heels needed all of them to make a comeback after falling behind early for the second game in a row.
Graves scored eight points during a 12-0 UNC run that cut Tech's lead to four points with eight minutes to go.
Then he hit a 3-pointer that gave UNC a 64-63 lead with five minutes remaining.
After Georgia Tech retook the lead, Graves hit another three to give UNC a 69-67 lead with 1:49 to play.
When the Jackets answered again, Graves showed that he didn't have to shoot to help the Tar Heels score, instead dishing underneath to freshman Travis Wear, who put UNC up 71-70 with 42 seconds to play.
But Tech forward Zach Peacock scored his only basket of the second half 14 seconds later to retake the lead.
UNC point guard Larry Drew II missed a contested lay-up, and the Tar Heels had to foul.
After a timeout with 1.7 seconds remaining, the best shot Carolina could muster was a very long 3-point attempt by Graves that landed out of bounds as the buzzer sounded.
"I should have just shot it like a regular shot instead of trying to lean into the guy," Graves said. "I was praying for him to make a mistake."
Working against a tough front line for Georgia Tech, the Heels were without sophomore Tyler Zeller, who is out indefinitely with a stress fracture in his foot.
But super freshman Derrick Favors, the preseason ACC rookie of the year, was a barely a factor for Tech after picking up two fouls in the game's first three minutes. Fellow forward Gani Lawal started the game 3 for 10 shooting and had just 12 points.
But guard Iman Shumpert made up for the frontcourt's lack of production for Tech, scoring 17 of his 30 points in the first half on 7-for-11 shooting.
For the second game in a row, the Tar Heels came out unable to match the energy of their opponent.
Georgia Tech hit six of its first seven field-goal tries and eventually worked their way to a 29-9 lead behind the strength of a 15-1 run. The Yellow Jackets early success even prompted a rare Williams timeout call.
Perhaps aided by being at home instead of in front of a hostile crowd, Carolina managed to battle back and cut the Tech lead to 10 before going into halftime trailing 42-28.
Still, the numbers were not good: Carolina had 11 turnovers against five assists, and the Yellow Jackets took 18 more shots than UNC in the opening 20 minutes.
And again, the bad start ended up costing the Tar Heels in the end.
"We were so tentative, so tight early, it was unbelievable," Williams said. "We lose a game, and we get shook. We've put ourselves in a spot. Now we've got to dig out of it."