Depleted Yellow Jackets top Wake Forest

Georgia Tech’s key rebounder long has been chained to the bench with a knee injury. On Saturday, a muscle pull gave the Yellow Jackets’ leading scorer a seat alongside him.

Naturally, Tech produced one of its better games of the season, procuring a 79-70 win over Wake Forest at Joel Coliseum.

“I’m proud of everybody,” said guard Trae Golden, the Jackets’ leading scorer on the season who played but eight minutes. “Everybody stepped up.”

The Jackets held off the Demon Deacons with a powerful rebounding performance, much better shooting than usual and heavy doses of center Daniel Miller and forward Marcus Georges-Hunt. Tech thwarted Wake Forest’s second-half comeback attempt with enough gritty play to overcome its depleted bench and 19 turnovers.

“It hasn’t always been pretty and never a dull moment around us, but I’ll take the fight that they’ve shown,” coach Brian Gregory said.

Tech (12-10 overall, 3-6 ACC) gave Wake Forest its second home loss of the season on a day the Jackets began with eight available scholarship players. Saturday was the Jackets’ first game since forward Jason Morris broke his foot in Wednesday’s loss to North Carolina. He joined forward (and leader in rebounds per game) Robert Carter (knee) and guards Travis Jorgenson (knee) and Solomon Poole (undisclosed medical condition). Tech was reduced to seven when Golden aggravated a groin injury eight minutes into the game and did not return.

In his place, guard Chris Bolden continued his up-and-down season by pitching in 12 points and five rebounds off the bench and playing a season-high 35 minutes. After nearly losing control of the ball, he flipped in a one-handed desperation 3-pointer at the first-half buzzer to give Tech a 41-34 lead, one of many bounces that Tech received that have largely eluded Bolden and his team of late.

Tech led by 13 at the 12-minute mark, but Wake Forest (14-8, 4-5) closed to 69-64 with 3:16 to play on a 3-pointer by forward Travis McKie (game-high 26 points). The second-half slides that have plagued Tech seemed in the offing. But on the Deacons’ next two possessions, Miller absorbed an offensive foul and then challenged an errant 3-point try by McKie. On Tech’s next possession, freed by a Miller screen, Georges-Hunt scored on a spin move to the basket to push the lead to seven with 1:29 to go and put the Jackets in the clear.

Miller finished with 16 points and 14 rebounds, seven offensive, along with three assists and three blocks. It was his second double-double in the past three games. He also muted Wake Forest forward Devin Thomas, who had seven points, nine rebounds and seven turnovers. “He’s the best big man in the league,” said Golden, who expects to play Tuesday night against Clemson.

Georges-Hunt led Tech with 23 points on 16 shots and became Tech’s primary ballhandler down the stretch. Responding to Gregory’s urging to play more aggressively, he has scored 53 points in the past three games.

Of his score off the spin move, he said his thinking was to “score. Go through everyone if I have to score.”

Tech’s depth was such that Gregory called on walk-on guard Ron Wamer in both halves. Wamer gave the Jackets five minutes and even score two points after getting fouled taking a 3-pointer. Tech outscored Wake Forest by four points in the time he was on the floor. Gregory found Wamer, an industrial-engineering major from Mill Creek High, on a squad of male students that practices against Tech’s women’s team. Before Saturday, he had played seven minutes, all in mop-up duty of blowouts.

On the bench, Golden practically giggled watching his teammates come through without him. “We have such a young team, so a lot of them are like little brothers to me,” he said. “I see maybe some stuff I don’t see when I’m playing, so it was great. … Ron Wamer, man, played huge.”

Gregory sounded an encouraging note that Carter, who underwent surgery Jan. 7 to repair a torn meniscus, could return before the end of the season. A team that has shown the ability to compete with the ACC’s middle rung without its talented big man will try to keep hanging on.