Time will tell how costly Georgia Tech’s 62-61 overtime loss to Arkansas at McCamish Pavilion on Monday night was. For now, it was a killer, an amalgam of poor offensive play, missed opportunities and one dagger of a game-winner.
Razorbacks guard Mason Jones hit a long 3-pointer off the glass in the final second of overtime for their only points of overtime. Tech had taken the lead on the previous possession on its own sole points of the extra period, a shot at the basket by center James Banks with 22.3 seconds to play.
Arkansas appeared disjointed as it played for the final shot — with five seconds remaining and his team down 61-59, Jones was in the jump-ball circle at half-court when guard Isaiah Joe passed to him out of a double team — but Jones took three dribbles to the right wing on Tech guard Asanti Price before stepping back and letting go from perhaps five feet behind the 3-point arc.
The shot caromed off the backboard and caught nothing but net. The shot left the Jackets .1 second, but they were not able to produce a shot. Evan Cole’s baseball pass from the baseline was intercepted to end the game.
“We guarded it really well and the kid hit a prayer,” Tech coach Josh Pastner said.
Said Jones, who scored a game-high 24 points, “I dribbled three times, stepped back, backboard, God bless us.”
Tech (2-2) has not lost in such a jaw-dropping manner since perhaps a January 2015 overtime home loss to N.C. State on a buzzer-beating transition 3-pointer.
“Obviously, I didn’t draw up a bank shot, but we’ll take it and go home and get on the plane and enjoy the plane ride back,” said first-year Arkansas coach Eric Musselman, whose team improved to 6-0.
Following its road defeat to Georgia last Wednesday, the loss to the Razorbacks again reduced Tech’s margin for error as it seeks to earn an NCAA tournament bid, provided the timing of its appeal for its postseason ban works out. Both games, particularly Monday’s, were winnable, and the lost opportunities to stack up wins that would make an impression on the selection committee will now have to be made up down the road.
While Tech fans (and perhaps the many Arkansas fans in attendance also) likely left McCamish Pavilion grumbling about the officiating crew of Ted Valentine, Michael Stephens and Bill Covington, the Jackets can accept full responsibility.
“That’s not why we lost the game,” said Pastner, who was the recipient of his first technical in 105 games as Tech head coach. “It wasn’t anything to do with the officials or anything like that.”
Playing without linchpin point guard Jose Alvarado, who was out with an ankle injury, Tech was often adrift, turning the ball over a season-high 23 times. The Jackets lost the ball three times in the first seven possessions of overtime and failed to score in the other four.
Guard Bubba Parham’s pass on a 3-on-1 break was intercepted, one of his six turnovers in the game. Forward Kahlid Moore’s post feed was likewise lost, one of his four turnovers. Finally, out of a timeout with 1:04 left in overtime and the score tied at 59 — the score at the end of regulation — Parham tried a lob for forward Moses Wright that was off target.
Tech also missed on a 3-pointer by Price, a tip-in try by Banks, a pull-up jumper by guard Michael Devoe and a close-range shot off the glass by Cole. In nine overtime possessions, Banks provided Tech’s only scoring, off a deft post move that set the stage for the game-winner.
The Jackets, as usual, defended well enough to win. Arkansas shot 38.6 percent from the field (22-for-57) and, not able to match Tech’s height, took only two offensive rebounds.
However, Tech is clearly not itself without Alvarado, who suffered the injury prior to Tech’s November 11 win over Elon. After sitting out the Elon game — when the Jackets had 17 turnovers — he played 18 ineffective minutes in the road loss at Georgia last Wednesday. The Jackets had 15 turnovers in that game.
Alvarado played 37 or more minutes 17 times last season even as he shot the ball poorly because of his ability to run the offense and lead. Monday night, against a strong defensive team in Arkansas, the Jackets were often disjointed and guilty of poor decisions with the ball.
“In the end, 23 turnovers just ended up biting us in the rear,” Pastner said.
One of Pastner’s go-to stats is the percentage of assisted baskets, as it reflects ball movement. Tech’s goal is 60 percent. Monday, it was 27 percent on a season-low six assists.
Efforts to get the ball in the post to Banks were often denied, and Tech also was errant from 3-point range (2-for-11).
Coming into the game as the ACC’s leading scorer at 26 points per game, Devoe was held to 12 points on 4-for-16 shooting from the field. Parham had 10, including 2 3-pointers. Banks led the Jackets with 20 points on 6-for-10 shooting and an 8-for-10 effort from the line.
“We’re asking (Devoe) to do a lot, to be the point guard and to score for us,” Pastner said. “Between he and Bubba, changing roles and being the point guard without Jose there, this is all part of it. He will grow from this and continue to get better.”
Pastner said that the plan is for Alvarado to be sidelined for the next three games (home games against Bethune-Cookman, Nebraska and Syracuse) before returning for the road test at Kentucky December 14.
In a critical sequence, Tech was down 52-50 with a little six minutes to play when Banks missed on a point-blank shot in which he appeared to have drawn contact. The Razorbacks pushed the pace, and Jones drove to the basket with Devoe stationing himself to draw a charge. However, Devoe was called for a block and Jones scored.
Pastner was called for a technical for protesting the call, apparently his first technical in his three-plus seasons coaching the Jackets. With Jones making all three free throws, it turned into a five-point trip for the Razorbacks to take a 57-50 lead.
“It was a big swing of momentum and things of that nature, but we had enough time to combat that and come back,” Banks said.
Tech had already rallied from a second-half deficit of nine points (41-32) to tie the game at 48 and 50 only to slide back into a seven-point with the five-point possession for the Razorbacks.
With Banks altering shots and getting to the basket at the other, Tech caught Arkansas again at 59-59 on a Devoe free throw with 1:14 to play. Neither team was able to score again in regulation.
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