It’s surprising what you might learn these days when going to a Georgia Tech basketball game.
For one thing, if a week late, we learned that a team from Atlanta is capable of beating one from New England, and in comeback fashion, too: Georgia Tech 65, Boston College 54.
Saturday evening featured the last-place team in the ACC – and that most assuredly was not Tech. Boston College is now 9-17 overall, 2-11 in the conference and about as anonymous as a major program can be.
What was learned: It doesn’t matter these days who the ACC opponent is, there is going to be an energized crowd at McCamish. In his first year, Josh Pastner has reached that deep well of popular support here that has gone untapped far too long. Maybe not quite old Thrillerdome proportions, but close enough. Saturday, the crowd of 7,391 was emotionally invested in Pastner’s surprising bunch (15-10, 6-6 in the ACC). And it was heartening to witness.
“The crowd was really good again, great energy in the building, gave us another good lift, was loud,” Pastner said, without being asked. “The crowd has helped us win some games this year.”
And energy was not easy to come by in this one, not with the home team scoring a mere 15 points in the first half, shooting 17 percent from the field, missing layups like a lunchtime game at the world’s worst YMCA.
What was learned: As Pastner put it, “This group of guys has become a good basketball team.” The coach did not automatically default to fury in the face of the kind of offense that suggested Tech came out wearing sleep masks and straight-jackets. His players displayed patience, resilience and ultimately, belief. They went for 50 in the second half, executed their britches off and beat a team it was supposed to beat going away.
And here we are, six games from the end of the schedule, and Tech at least remains in the conversation for an NCAA tournament spot. That is mind-numbing.
“It’s pretty miraculous for us to be sitting where we are sitting at this point in February, to be in situation we’re in,” Pastner said.
“It’s a real credit to these young men, them having an understanding about a team. It’s a great example of what a team can do. We’ve become a good team. We’re very limited, tons of deficiencies, but team usually prevails in the long run.”
What was learned: They stayed viable Saturday through a defensive effort that limited BC to 22 first-half points. We discovered a new stat in the process: “The Kill.” Pastner defines that as holding an opponent without points in at least three consecutive possessions. Tech had eight “kills” Saturday. Its goal is seven per game, Pastner said.
And what hasn’t exactly been learned yet: For Tech to remain a tournament possibility (I can't even believe I typed those words), it’s going to need to win on the road, too. Half of the remaining schedule is away from home, beginning Wednesday at Miami. And travel is an exhausting experience in the ACC – in conference, teams are a combined 29-63 on the road (31 percent), and Virginia alone has a winning road record. Tech is 1-5 away from McCamish.
“You know how well we played at Virginia Tech and Virginia? We played at a high level. In the other leagues I’ve been in if we played really well, we were winning. In this league if you play really well you could lose,” Pastner said. “When Notre Dame played here they played really well when they lost. That’s what makes this league so good, you can play really well and still lose.
“We got three road games left until the conference tournament. We would love to steal one along the way but none of the three (at Miami, Notre Dame and Syracuse) are going to be easy, obviously.”