Royal scored 10 points and grabbed seven rebounds but, more importantly, his work in the first half helped the Yellow Jackets (7-4) shake the rust off a nine-day layoff on the way to a 65-54 win over Alabama A&M.
Mfon Udofia took over in the second half, scoring all 16 of his points in the period as Georgia Tech won its third straight.
Georgia Tech turned the ball over on four of its first six possessions, and trailed 10-5 about eight minutes into the game. Rice then scored his team's next six points, but the Yellow Jackets still trailed — until Royal entered the game.
The freshman totaled just 11 points and seven rebounds over Georgia Tech's previous nine games, but he hit jumpers on three of Tech's next four possessions. The first one tied the game, and the second gave the Jackets a lead they never lost.
"I was very pleased with his performance," said Georgia Tech coach Brian Gregory. "(It was) maybe the only bright spot for me. I'm not sure he stabilized us; he saved our butts."
Alabama A&M (2-5) flustered Tech at times with high-pressure defense, and Jeremy Ingram led the Bulldogs with 14 points off the bench.
Alabama A&M was ultimately undone by its shortcomings on the boards. The Bulldogs were missing leading rebounder DeMarquelle Tabb, who had back spasms, and the Jackets outrebounded Alabama A&M 47-25 in the Arena at Gwinnett Center.
Tech led 25-21 at halftime, but the Yellow Jackets had to call a timeout 10 seconds into the second half as they struggled to inbound the ball. They then turned it over nine seconds later when failing to inbound in five seconds.
The Yellow Jackets had 11 turnovers in each half in their first game since a lopsided win at Savannah State on Dec. 10.
Alabama A&M's Brandon Ellis knotted the game at 25 on a layup with 18:44 remaining, but for the fourth straight game, the Jackets held an opponent to 35 percent shooting or worse, as the Bulldogs made 20 of 57 shots (35.1 percent), and Georgia Tech's size wore down the visitors.
"When you're missing your leading rebounder and second-leading scorer (Tabb) . . . that hurt us," said Alabama A&M coach Willie Hayes, whose team was playing the fourth of eight consecutive road games. "We were playing our Smurfs."
After Alabama A&M tied the game, Udofia hit a 3-pointer to start a 13-2 run during which he and Rice combined for 11 points, and Royal added a point-blank score.
"The last week or so Julian's been practicing the best he ever has, and it translated into the game," said Rice, who made 6 of 10 shots, including 3 of 6 3-pointers.
Gregory was not pleased by much of anything other than Royal's work.
"We didn't play very well. We didn't play with the effort you need to play with, or the concentration that you need to play with," the first-year Tech coach said. "When you have 22 turnovers . . . For the first time, we did not build on what we had done in the past."