Alvarado shows improvement in near-upset for Tech

In an early-January slugfest that only vaguely resembled the game we call “basketball,” the chaos bred brilliance from Jose Alvarado.

The sophomore point guard from Brooklyn, New York, who often is criticized for his inconsistency, proved himself to be one of the few watchable players for otherwise dreadful Georgia Tech on Wednesday night.

The Yellow Jackets (9-6, 1-1 ACC) couldn't finish against No. 9 Virginia Tech (14-1, 3-0), losing 52-49, but they wouldn't have sniffed a one-possession loss without the play of the mercurial Alvarado.

“We knew we were going to come here and give them a dogfight,” Alvarado said.

And a dogfight it was. The Jackets turned the ball over 18 times. They scored two points in the first eight minutes. Key contributors Khalid Moore and Brandon Alston played a combined 31 minutes because of foul trouble. Center James Banks, who scored 20 points in the conference opener against Wake Forest, had more missed layups (3) than points (2).

But Alvarado picked up the slack. He poured in 17 of Tech’s 24 first-half points on 6-of-7 shooting and a perfect 3-for-3 from deep. Despite his shooting struggles in non-conference play, nobody in McCamish Pavilion thought Alvarado could miss in the first half. Tech found itself down only 29-24 at halftime, thanks in part to a season-worst shooting display from the typically lethal Hokies.

Alvarado’s role changed in the second half, allowing him to display a newfound maturity. It would’ve been easy for the shoot-first guard to gun for a career high in points, eclipsing his 24 against Northwestern in November. Instead, Alvarado set the tone on both ends. He motivated his teammates at every timeout, ran point on the Jackets’ swarming 1-3-1 zone defense and riled up the crowd to peak decibel levels in McCamish Pavilion. He only scored 3 points in the second frame, but he also dished out three assists.

In the end, Tech was able to tie the score late and even take the lead briefly in the upset bid, but poor free-throw shooting and a turnover with less than a minute to go by Alston gave the game to the Hokies. After all his heroics, Alvarado didn’t touch the ball on the final offensive possession.

“I should’ve brought the ball up myself, but I thought we were running a play,” Alvarado explained. “But that’s my teammate. If he would have taken the shot, I knew it was going to go in. If anybody would’ve gotten it, I’d believe they would make it.”

If the game was the dogfight that Alvarado suggested, the Jackets may have come away bloodied and bruised, but they also saw a young pitbull from Brooklyn who does not deserve to be in the doghouse.