Tech shows its character with a breezy win over Pitt

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On senior night, Georgia Tech played with energy in the final home game of the season. The end result was a 73-57 win, Tech’s fifth in the past six games.(Courtesy of ACC)

So, let me get this straight: Pitt is going to the ACC Basketball Tournament and Georgia Tech isn’t. The superficial fairness of that was lost on anyone who may have stumbled by McCamish Pavilion late at night Wednesday and witnessed the latter kneecap the former by 16 points.

Well, there's a backstory here that involves a head coach's poor choice of pals and a strip club, but we won't get into that just now.

Because on their final home game of 2019-20, just credit the Yellow Jackets with showing a fair measure of gumption. And thank them, as well, for providing the platform to break out the word “gumption,” because it’s one that just hasn’t gotten nearly enough play this century.

There are all manner of other quaint words to describe Tech's performance in beating Pitt 73-57 just days after having the postseason yanked out from beneath it. Pluck. Mettle. Moxie.

Another way to put it, courtesy of Yellow Jackets coach Josh Pastner: “To see how the guys responded this week ... I cannot give you enough accolades for these young men on how they handled themselves Monday after they were told the decision, Tuesday and how they played (Wednesday). They deserve every single ounce of credit. And my assistant coaches and my staff has done an incredible job.”

There would be about 101 excuses for Tech to, well, not give a flying flip Wednesday night. Let’s count just a few of the ways.

A crowd that, while quite verbal, was officially downgraded to a gathering. Granted, this game was almost as hard a sell as a motivational seminar at a cannabis trade show.

One reason for that — a start time that beggars belief. Nothing good starts at 9 p.m., except perhaps “The Walking Dead” or a nice dinner in Barcelona.

Then there was the unceasing rain that has pretty much caused everyone’s eyeballs to fog over.

And an opponent, Pitt, with all the pizzazz of a back issue of Foreign Affairs magazine. Then, of course, the big one: This week’s decision by the Tech administration to stop tilting at the NCAA windmill and drop the appeal of its one-year postseason ban. Thus was crushed these players’ fantasy of at least making some noise at the ACC Tournament. Now, only silence after this win and a Friday night date at Clemson.

And a Friday night in Clemson sounds like further, undue NCAA punishment.

But this team ignored all that. This team that has become really likable just about when it’s time to turn off its lights put up a good, honest fight. As the better bunch, it did what was expected and put Pitt in its place.

This might be a game that every player should put on his resume, for it speaks well of a collective character that should play well in the workplace.

Senior James Banks threw a block party on his last home game, rejecting Pitt four times. Guard Jose Alvarado was his usual turbulent self, going for 23 points and several verses on air guitar. Backup forward Evan Cole supplied three exclamatory dunks in the second half, along with one technical foul just to prove that he was emotionally engaged. Tech’s defense held the worst-shooting team in the conference to even a reduced efficiency – 31% from the field for the game.

With the one game remaining, the Jackets, 10-9 in the ACC, assured themselves of finishing at least .500 in the conference for the first time since 2006-07. Win at Clemson and they will finish above .500 in the ACC for the first time since the 2004 Final Four Tech team.

Conference standings

They have earned the right to feel good about themselves. They have won the consolation of a prideful finish, if not a complete one.

“We worked hard and we got better together and I think that’s what you’re seeing on the court — a team that’s coming together,” Banks said.

"Kind of sucks you get on a roll this late in the year and it has to stop now, but that's the culmination of a bunch of guys putting in a bunch of hard work together," he said.
"There are a lot of things you can say about the program but there is one thing you can't deny: Every single year, guys have gotten better and better," Pastner said.

That would seem to bode well for a future without tournament restraints. But project and predict the moods of college basketball at your own peril. It is in so many ways unfathomable.

When this season is entered into history after Friday, the one cold certainty is that it will lack any notation of postseason tournament play. A shame, because this actually became a Tech team that left you wanting to see more.

But at least affix an asterisk to the record for spunk.

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