Georgia Tech avoids upset against Prairie View A&M

Brandon Alston scored 14 points, including 2-for-3 shooting from 3-point range, in Georgia Tech's 65-54 win over Prairie View A&M Friday at McCamish Pavilion. (Danny Karnik/Georgia Tech Athletics)

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Brandon Alston scored 14 points, including 2-for-3 shooting from 3-point range, in Georgia Tech's 65-54 win over Prairie View A&M Friday at McCamish Pavilion. (Danny Karnik/Georgia Tech Athletics)

ACC teams have demonstrated early this season that they’re not immune to upsets by lower-echelon teams in Division I, and Georgia Tech nearly joined that ill-fated group Friday afternoon.

The Yellow Jackets were required to rally from a 10-point deficit late in the first half to defeat Prairie View A&M 65-54 at McCamish Pavilion. Tech (4-1) nearly took a fall against a team that finished last season rated No. 245 in RPI.

“You can forewarn, prepare, say all you want, show videos, but that’s just part of basketball,” coach Josh Pastner said. “You see it around the country, where teams beat teams that maybe (they) weren’t expected to.”

Also Friday, Wake Forest lost at home in overtime to Houston Baptist. Earlier this season, Notre Dame lost to Radford and Boston College fell to IUPUI. Prairie View A&M (1-6) came into the game on a five-game losing streak was playing its sixth game in 12 days in six different cities.

And yet Tech was the one at an energy deficit. Guard Brandon Alston said he noticed it both during the shootaround and then in warmups, when he and guard Jose Alvarado huddled the team together to instill some focus to the group.

“I’m a senior, so I pick up on all the little stuff, just because I’ve been through it a lot,” guard Brandon Alston said. “From the fact that people weren’t sweating, we were laughing too much. It’s just a lot of stuff.”

In the first half, Tech did not defend with its usual vigor and was 0-for-8 from 3-point range. With four minutes remaining in the first half, the Panthers were shooting 43 percent with just four turnovers. For the season, Tech opponents had shot 34 percent and turned the ball over 17 times per game. Tech’s two leading scorers, Alston and Alvarado, had scored a total of one point.

As a result, Prairie View A&M led 24-14.

“We didn’t come out with the energy we needed to,” Alvarado said.

Prairie View A&M turned the ball over four times in the final 3:47, which the Jackets turned into eight points, to cut the lead to 27-26 at halftime. In the second half, the Panthers pushed the lead back up to nine and led by eight with 14:16 remaining. A loss to a team from the SWAC for a second consecutive season loomed, following last year’s defeat to Grambling State.

Scoreless until that point, Alvarado changed the game by going on a personal 9-0 run to give the Jackets a 42-41 lead on a fast-break layup.

“My guys got me open they pushed me the ball and they trusted me to make a play,” Alvarado said.

Tech’s lead never was above five until an Alston jumper increased the lead to seven with 3:09 left, and then Alvarado’s three-point play at the 1:42 mark raised the lead to 10.

Perhaps physically spent, Prairie View A&M missed its final four shots of the game. After making 42 percent of its shots in the first half, the Panthers shot 33 percent from the field in the second.

“I’d like to think that maybe Georgia Tech just kind of revved it up a little bit more so than we ran out of gas, but I think we did have some guys that got a little bit tired,” Panthers coach Byron Smith said.

Alvarado led with 15 points to go with six assists and four steals against one turnover. Alston scored 14, his third double-figure scoring game of the season. Freshman guard Michael Devoe played 34 minutes, a high in his young career, contributing six points, four rebounds and three assists.

“I was proud of Michael Devoe,” Pastne said.

After three fairly easy wins against lower-tier teams, the Jackets survived a close call.

“We’re not going to show up and just out-talent anyone,” Pastner said. “That’s not who we are. That’s just wha we’ve got to do. We’re going to hang our hat on 3-point shooting and defense.”

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