A week after clutch shots and tough defense produced the biggest win of coach Brian Gregory’s tenure, Georgia Tech stumbled to one of the worst defeats under his watch. Leading by as many as 15 points in the first half and by 10 with 4:32 to play, the Yellow Jackets handed a 78-77 decision to Virginia Tech on Saturday afternoon at McCamish Pavilion. The postgame pall far differed from the exuberance and hope produced by the Jackets’ win over then-No. 4 Virginia the previous Saturday.
“Very stunned,” said Georgia Tech guard Marcus Georges-Hunt, whose career-high 27 points went to waste in the defeat.
Ahead 74-64 after Georges-Hunt converted a traditional 3-point play at the 4:32 mark, the Jackets (11-7 overall, 1-4 ACC) melted down. Over the final 10 possessions of the game, Tech scored three points, shot 1-for-6 from the field, turned the ball over four times and couldn’t get a last-second shot off after a Hokies free throw put them up 78-77 with 3.4 seconds to play. The Hokies finished the game on a 14-3 run.
“It’s disappointing because you have a game that you’ve played well enough in a lot of key areas to win the game, but you weren’t able to finish it off,” Gregory said.
Here are five observations from the game.
They are free, but sometimes costly
Free throws were again at the heart of the defeat for Georgia Tech. In the second half, the Hokies were 23-for-27 from the line while Georgia Tech was 3-for-9. The margin fed Virginia Tech’s rally from a 10-point halftime deficit, giving the Hokies easy points as they shot 41.7 from the field in the second half. In the second half of Georgia Tech’s four ACC losses, the Jackets have taken 29 free throws to their opponents’ 93. Worse, Georgia Tech’s opponents have shot 86 percent (80-for-93) while the Jackets have shot 51.7 percent (15-for-29).
Gregory had no complaints about the officiating, saying the crew was made up of “three quality officials.” He spoke of having to “really come up with something to figure that out or something that you can go to outside of your normal (defensive) coverage” to avoid fouling so frequently.
Late turnovers hurt
Four turnovers in the final 4:20 were killers. Forward Charles Mitchell threw the ball away in the backcourt on back-to-back possessions, leading directly to four points for the Hokies in the span of six seconds and cutting the lead from 10 points (74-64) to six (74-68). Virginia Tech coach Buzz Williams said that the two giveaways “gave us at least a chance.”
“I don’t know that we necessarily did anything (on the two turnovers), but we were the beneficiary, for sure,” he said.
Later, guard Josh Heath, who had turned the ball over three times in 76 minutes of ACC play entering the game, lost the ball twice in a span of three possessions.
“You just can’t do that, not in this league,” Gregory said. “You can’t give life to a team like that. And that’s exactly what we did.”
Another bad day for Smith
Guard Adam Smith, playing against his former teammates, had a rough afternoon, as well. He was 2-for-13 from the field and 1-for-7 from 3-point range, including an air ball with 1:24 to play and the score tied at 75-75. Smith’s eight-game double-figure scoring streak ended with a five-point effort.
Tale of two halves
Georgia Tech’s second-half collapse followed a first half in which it did so much right. Forcing tough shots, taking advantage of the Hokies’ early sloppiness and scoring swiftly in transition, the Jackets took a 12-2 lead and pushed the advantage to 29-14, their largest lead of the game. In the half, Georgia Tech shot 17-for-34 from the field and scored nine second-chance points and 17 fast-break points in taking a 43-33 halftime lead.
“I thought they just dominated us in the first half,” Williams said.
Time to bounce back
This ranks among the more disheartening losses in Gregory’s tenure, perhaps the most, and there have been many. Trying to establish a home-court advantage for the ACC season, against a team that was entirely beatable, after taking a 15-point first-half lead and a 10-point lead with 4:2o left with the ball, the Jackets handed the game away.
The Jackets will have to dwell on it for the next week, as they do not play again until their game at home Saturday against Louisville.
“We’ll rally,” Gregory said. “That’s what we do. That’s what we have to do.”