Time will tell if Georgia Tech actually made its way through any sort of door when it defeated N.C. State on Saturday afternoon at McCamish Pavilion.
But, for the Yellow Jackets, those semantics probably didn’t much matter as they broke a three-game losing streak with a 64-58 win over the Wolfpack.
“We’ve played a lot of close games that haven’t gone our way,” forward Evan Cole said. “We just knew we had to finish this out.”
Tech made the winning plays down the stretch after a series of games in which the Jackets failed to do so. The end product was the McCamish crowd bathing the Jackets in cheers as time expired.
As ACC losses accumulated in recent weeks, coach Josh Pastner offered his repeated assurances that Tech was improving, that it was better than its record indicated. On Friday, he said that Tech was knocking on the door and simply needed to “get through the door.”
In the previous seven ACC games, Tech outscored the opposition 355-331 in the first 30 minutes of games only to be outscored 156-130 in the final 10. On Saturday, the Jackets and Wolfpack were tied at 47-47 with 10 minutes left, and Tech won the final 10 by a 17-11 count.
A home win over a team that had won three consecutive ACC games and is a legitimate contender for an NCAA tournament berth was a step forward for a team that had lost five league games in the final minutes.
“We’re at the doorstep, and we need to be able to get through the doorstep,” Pastner said. “And (Saturday) was a good first step in being able to do that.”
Playing in front of an announced crowd of 6,794, Tech took an early 19-8 lead behind strong play from guard Jose Alvarado before allowing the Wolfpack to take a 32-31 halftime lead. In the second half, the teams played largely even before the Jackets closed it down in the final three minutes.
Center James Banks tipped in his own miss for a 56-55 lead with 2:37 to play, followed by a layup by Alvarado to extend the lead to 58-55. N.C. State rallied to tie at 58-58 with 44 seconds to play before Banks answered, putting back an Alvarado miss for a 60-58 lead with 22 seconds left.
Alvarado then made the play of the game as N.C. State set up the next possession, squeezing in between Wolfpack guards C.J. Bryce and Markell Johnson to wrest free a handoff and then get fouled. Alvarado made both free throws for a 62-58 lead with 8.4 seconds left. He delivered the closing blow with another steal, leading to a layup in the final second.
“I just went with my guts,” Alvarado said of the steal of the handoff. “It gets me in trouble sometimes, but (not this time).”
After its string of tight losses, it undoubtedly was a cathartic moment for the Jackets. Alvarado was exuberant at game’s end, flapping his arms and responding to the McCamish crowd.
It was a career game for Alvarado. He finished with 26 points, three shy of his career high, and eight rebounds. More notably, he tied Kenny Anderson’s school record with eight steals.
“Georgia Tech obviously was the better team (Saturday), but I thought Alvarado was really, really special,” N.C. State coach Kevin Keatts said. “I thought he did a tremendous job (Saturday). He ran the show.”
Tech (9-11, 4-6 ACC) secured victory without guard Michael Devoe, the team’s leading scorer. Devoe was a game-time scratch with a sore foot. Devoe injured his left foot in the Jackets’ loss to Virginia on Jan. 18 and played 36 minutes against Louisville on Wednesday, but was not able to go Saturday. Forward Khalid Moore started in his place, contributing five points in 21 minutes and playing his usual strong defense. That Tech won without Devoe made the victory all the more noteworthy.
“Our guys, I can’t say enough about them,” Pastner said.
If necessary, Devoe can sit out of Tuesday’s home game against Division II Morehouse and potentially be able to play Saturday at Notre Dame.
“Just got to take it day by day,” Pastner said of Devoe’s health.
N.C. State (14-6, 5-4) became Tech’s first season sweep since the 2013-14 season, as the Jackets won in Raleigh, N.C., in overtime in the season opener. Pastner improved to 5-1 against the Wolfpack in his four seasons. He is 19-39 in league play against the rest of the ACC.
Tech received solid contributions from forward Jordan Usher (eight points, seven rebounds, six assists), Banks (six points, seven rebounds, two blocks) and Cole off the bench (11 points, four rebounds, three blocks).
Cole played a season-high 24 minutes, helping allow Banks to play 31 minutes – still high but below his average of 34 minutes for the previous five games.