“We’re getting better offensively, we just cannot put ourselves in that position when we have those type of turnovers,” coach Josh Pastner said. “It bit us in the butt this game. It bit us in the butt last game vs. Notre Dame. That’s just the deal.”
Tech (8-10 overall, 3-5 ACC) has its poorest record after 18 games in Pastner’s four seasons, despite arguably having the best playing rotation in his tenure. The Jackets have not been 8-10 after 18 games since former coach Brian Gregory’s first season (2011-12).
Virginia (12-5, 4-3) has won six consecutive games over the Jackets.
“We’re better than our record,” Pastner said. “From my chair, I know that. But I also understand that doesn’t give you any pat on the back or any moral victories, because the record is … that’s sports. You’ve got to win the game.”
They were his most candid comments acknowledging that the season hasn’t unfolded as had been hoped.
“I know our record, it’s not good,” he said. “But we’re better than our record. We’re just a better team. This is the best we’ve been in our four years, I can assure you that.”
Tech has lost all four of its ACC home games at the same time that it has won three of its four league road games. In four of its five ACC losses (Florida State, Duke, Notre Dame and Virginia), the Jackets’ play had its merits but ultimately was flawed enough to invite defeat. In each, turnovers were part of the losing equation.
Tech entered the game ranked 336th out of 350 Division I teams at 16.7 turnovers per game, last among power-conference teams.
It was a dour result on a night when perhaps the most revered team in school history — the 1990 Final Four team — was honored on its 30th anniversary. Coach Bobby Cremins and a number of players and assistants, including legendary guard Kenny Anderson, were feted on the court at halftime.
The Jackets were loose with the ball early, turning it over seven times in their first 11 possessions. Virginia’s length gave Tech problems, but that wasn’t the only issue. There were two travels and a pass lost out of bounds because the recipient wasn’t looking for it.
Virginia broke its three-game losing streak by taking advantage of the Yellow Jackets’ boatload of turnovers to leave McCamish Pavilion with a 63-58 win. (Video courtesy of ACC)
The Jackets’ fumbles have continued, almost inexplicably, as their shotmaking has improved. After shooting 50 percent from the field twice in its first 13 games, the Jackets have reached that threshold four times in the past five games, including Saturday. In making 25 of 50 shots against Virginia, Tech became just the second team this season to make half its shots against the defending national champions, who entered Saturday’s game leading Division I in defensive field-goal percentage at 34.7 percent.
Against the Cavaliers’ vaunted pack-line defense, Tech was effective going to the basket and creating scoring opportunities. Tech had 16 assists on 25 baskets, evidence of the Jackets’ execution of a good game plan. It was the most assists Virginia has allowed in a game this season.
“At times, we got beat off the dribble, got back cut, gave up some offensive rebounds,” UVA coach Tony Bennett said. “There were enough breakdowns that they got back in the game, but when we were back and sounds — they went to some different stuff in the second half and made some plays – they had some costly turnovers, unforced errors, as we did at the end.”
After falling behind 43-29 at the 14:47 mark, Tech rallied, bringing to mind its comeback against Duke Jan. 8, when the Jackets came back from 11 down in the second half to take the lead on four different occasions before faltering.
The Jackets went on a 17-5 run, with Alvarado and forward Evan Cole contributing six points each, to cut the lead to 48-46 with 8:15 to play on an Alvarado 3-pointer from the corner. Despite the turnovers, Tech’s light still flickered.
“Evan gave us great minutes, played his tail off,” said Pastner, who added that the junior was playing through difficult family circumstances.
However, the Jackets missed five of their next six shots, allowing Virginia to push the lead back to 55-48 with 3:07 to play. Thanks to Virginia’s shaky free-throw shooting, Tech was in it until the final seconds, when Virginia forward Mamadi Diakite finally put the game out of reach with 5.7 seconds left with a pair of free throws to extend a three-point lead to five.
In the second half, the Jackets had scored 33 points (the most Virginia had given up in a half to an ACC opponent this season) while turning the ball over only five times. But all there was to do was to, again, rue a lost opportunity.
“We shot 50 percent,” Pastner said. “It’s the best we’ve shot against them at least in my four years here. We scored the best. I thought we had good ...”
Here, Pastner interrupted himself.
“Just, the turnovers. It was just the turnovers.”