Put Anthony Edwards on Georgia Tech and Josh Pastner wouldn’t be 0-4 against the Bulldogs. But Edwards picked Georgia – his second choice was Florida State – and Tech remains where it has been since Pastner arrived from Memphis in 2016. It’s searching for traction, in dire need of a star. Tom Crean showed up in Athens two years after Pastner alit in Atlanta and, with one signing, lent juice to a program that hasn’t won an NCAA tournament game since 2002. 

Georgia beat Tech 82-78 here WednesdayThe score flatters the losers. Michael Devoe sailed in two 3-pointers inside the final four seconds to make it close for the record books. The game itself was rudimentary. Georgia trailed by eight early but settled itself against Tech’s zone schemes and built a 16-point lead. Tech has some pretty good players. Georgia has two who are better than pretty good. 

The only moment of doubt came with 10:16 remaining. Georgia’s Rayshaun Hammonds, who had scored 26 of his team’s 56 points, drew his fourth foul. Tech was within eight. Didn’t matter. The renowned rookie showed why he’s renowned. 

With Hammonds sitting, you knew the next shot would be the Ant Man’s. (Never mind that he had made one basket over the first 30 minutes.) He hoisted a transition 3-pointer. He made it. He would score 12 of Georgia’s 13 points over 3-1/2 minutes. The lead stretched from eight to 13. This is basketball. Stars matter. 

Said Edwards: “I never feel pressure. This is what I’m working for. My brother (Hammonds) said, ‘Take over, I’m out.’ ” 

Said Pastner: “He’s a pro. He’s going to be one of the top three draft picks. Pros do that.” 

Said Crean: “Anthony doesn’t really get rattled. ... In all honesty, we’re not even scratching the surface on him.” 

Edwards is from Atlanta. Hammonds, a junior, is from Norcross. Pastner again: “Hammonds was a stud tonight. We recruited him hard, too.” 

This isn’t to say that Pastner hasn’t taken what he has and made it better. Devoe averaged 9.7 points as a freshman. He scored 34 against Georgia. Moses Wright scored 16 points in the second half. They weren’t big-name signees, but they can play. But that’s the thing: For Pastner, now in Year 4, there still hasn’t been a big-name signee. 

“I really, really like this team,” Pastner said. “We have a chance to have a really good season.” 

Couldn’t beat Georgia, though. Even if its appeal of the NCAA’s postseason ban is granted, there’s no guarantee Tech will win enough games to make the NCAA tournament. It hasn’t since 2010. That’s a long time. 

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For the Bulldogs, the future must be now. Edwards is a definite one-and-done, but his one season brings the chance to skip several steps. Crean, who gets excited about everything, was especially excited to learn that Georgia hadn’t drawn so many fans over its first four home games to Stegeman Coliseum since 1981. “That’s how the program gets built,” he said. “That’s how the team gets better. We had recruits at the game.” 

And there it is again. The state of Georgia has long churned out major basketball talents. The state’s flagship university now has one of those, and the men’s basketball team of the that flagship university has won five in a row against Georgia Tech. Said Crean: “We’re the University of Georgia. That’s something we want to build. This is a huge rivalry. I told the team, ‘There will always be things bigger than you.’ A game like this is.” 

The Bulldogs aren’t a big team. (They shouldn’t have outrebounded Tech, but they did.) They mightn’t be very good defensively, either. That was the knock on Crean’s teams at Indiana, where basketball is more than a diversion between football season and spring football, and Georgia’s defense against Devoe and Wright in the second half was shocking. “We gave up way too many straight-line drives,” Crean said. 

No matter. When in doubt, Georgia had the ultimate bailout – throw it to a great player and let him work. Edwards finished with 18 points, 16 in the second half. He drew seven Tech fouls, most off drives, a couple off backdoor cuts. His performance was what Pastner had envisioned for Tech when he offered Edwards a scholarship before his sophomore year at Therrell High. But Edwards didn’t want to spend his pre-NBA gap year at Tech.

Said Pastner: “I saw him in Las Vegas with his AAU team before his senior year. I said he could play in the NBA right then.” 

The Ant Man gives Georgia chance to make inroads untraveled since ... when? The early days of Hugh Durham, with Dominique Wilkins and James Banks (no relation to Tech’s James Banks) and Terry Fair and Vern Fleming? One big name tends to draw other big names. Even if you’re working with new big names every year, it beats signing a bunch of 3-stars and straining to break .500. As Crean said: “How do we build it on the floor, and how do we build the environment?” 

He already knows the answer. The answer is Anthony Edwards. He won’t be a Bulldog long, but he doesn’t need to be. He’s here now.

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About the Author

Mark Bradley
Mark Bradley
Mark Bradley is a sports columnist and blogger for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. He has been with the AJC since 1984.
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