Notre Dame guard Austin Burgett, right, drives the lane as Georgia Tech forward Robert Carter Jr. defends in an NCAA college basketball game Wednesday, Feb. 26, 2014 in South Bend, Ind. (AP Photo/Joe Raymond)
Photo: Joe Raymond
Photo: Joe Raymond

Fighting Irish hold off Yellow Jackets

Forward Robert Carter had two 3-point tries to tie Notre Dame in the final 10 seconds but was short on both, sending the Yellow Jackets to a 65-62 defeat Wednesday night at the Joyce Center.

Carter, making his first start since his return from a torn meniscus in his left knee, had rallied the Jackets in the final two minutes with consecutive 3-pointers at the 1:57 and 1:09 marks to bring his team within one point, at 63-62.

“It felt good,” Carter said of his final two attempts. “I feel like it was just legs. I feel like I just didn’t get my legs into it. It fell short twice.”

Tech (13-15 overall, 4-11 ACC) dropped its third game in a row as it heads into its final three games of the regular season, including upcoming road contests at Florida State and No. 4 Syracuse. The game was reminiscent of the Jackets’ overtime loss at N.C. State Jan. 26, when they played well enough to win but weren’t able to deliver the difference-making plays.

“You’ve just got to learn how to win those games,” coach Brian Gregory said. “Sometimes, you’ve got to make some more winning plays. We made a couple, but not enough.”

Carter was glum following the game over his missed opportunities.

“I won’t forget this for a while, until I hit one,” he said.

Notre Dame (15-14, 6-10) earned a split in the season series.

Tech led 22-11 with 7:42 to play in the first half but gave up the lead in a span of 10 possessions, as defensive lapses and the playmaking of Irish point guard Eric Atkins revived the home team. The Jackets re-gained the lead once more, on the ensuing possession, but gave it back with a 3-pointer at the other end and never led again for the rest of the game.

“I thought the difference in the game was about a six-minute stretch at the end of the first half when we didn’t execute as well on offense,” Gregory said. “That’s going to happen sometimes, and then our defense wasn’t able to hold the fort a little bit during that stretch.”

Unlike many instances this season when Tech opponents overcame an early deficit and then slowly pulled away, the Jackets didn’t buckle. Down 47-38 with 13:53 to go, forward Marcus Georges-Hunt and guard Chris Bolden led a surge with four free throws and a pair of 3-pointers, respectively, that closed the score to 53-50 with 9:59 to go.

Tech had a possession, down 56-55, to take the lead, but missed two shots and then lost the ball when Notre Dame guard Pat Connaughton intercepted a Georges-Hunt pass.

Connaughton made a clutch play later, scoring on a drive with the shot clock running down with 3:12 to go to push the lead to four at 60-56. The lead reached 63-56 when Atkins hit a 3-pointer with 2:19 to play, at which point Carter delivered with his 3-pointers to cut the lead to one at 63-62 with 1:09 to go.

On the next possession, Tech’s defense forced an awkward and errant 3-pointer by Connaughton with the shot clock running down, but Atkins managed to poke away the rebound from Carter, giving Notre Dame the ball and forcing Tech to foul. Rather than having the ball down one with 30 seconds remaining, Tech was instead down three with 23.8 seconds left after Connaughton made both of his free throws.

“I feel like (Atkins) might have come, the little guard might have come and swiped it from behind and knocked it loose,” Carter said. “I was about to get it and I kind of fell.”

Carter, who scored one point in the Jackets’ loss to Clemson Saturday, led Tech with 19 points on 8-for-16 shooting and 10 rebounds in only 24 minutes due to foul trouble. Guard Trae Golden, who scored 17 against the Tigers in his best game since suffering his groin injury, struggled Wednesday, missing all 10 of his shots from the field and finishing scoreless.

Bolden and forward Quinton Stephens filled in off the bench with nine and six points, respectively. Bolden was 3-for-3 from 3-point range, all in the second half. Gregory said that Golden was out of rhythm due to missed practice time to nurse his injury.

“Out of those 10 shots, I’d take eight of those every single day,” he said.

Notre Dame was led by center Garrick Sherman, who scored 21 points on 10-for-15 shooting. Notre Dame shot 27-for-58, including 22-for-38 from inside the 3-point arc.

The Jackets had one of their more efficient games, scoring their 62 points on 58 possessions by unofficial count. Tech turned the ball only six times, tying the season low set in the season opener, and had assists on 16 of its 22 baskets.

Tech was making its first visit to this myth-bound institution as a fellow ACC member. The Jackets and Irish have been paired as primary partners (Tech’s other is Clemson), meaning they will be playing twice annually. Monday, Gregory, who grew up outside of Chicago with a steady diet of Notre Dame basketball and was supported at the game by several friends and family members, suggested that the series “can turn into something pretty special.”

It was just the 10th meeting between the two teams, and the first in South Bend since 1990.

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