For five minutes, Georgia Tech let the game get away. That lapse, despite a resplendent performance from guard Michael Devoe, was enough space for Georgia to claim in-state supremacy again.
Before a partisan crowd of 10, 205 in Stegeman Coliseum, the Bulldogs subjected the Yellow Jackets to defeat for a fifth consecutive year Wednesday night, this time by a 82-78 score.
Coach Josh Pastner fell to 0-4 in the state’s most heated rivalry.
“I’m disappointed,” Pastner said. “I’m most disappointed in myself that we haven’t been able to get it done in this particular game through my time here at this point. I know how much this game means to Georgia Tech.”
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It is the longest stretch of red-and-black hardwood dominance (or white-and-gold futility) since the Bulldogs won seven in a row 1980-84 when the teams were still meeting twice annually.
“It feels horrible, especially me having a subpar game, shooting 0-for-4 (from the free-throw line),” center James Banks said. “We couldn’t buy a free throw this game. It was horrible. It was embarrassing. We had a really good opportunity to win, and this one, we won’t be able to get back.”
The timing was not ideal for Tech (2-1). Banks was ailing with flu symptoms. Point guard Jose Alvarado had returned to practice after a nearly two-week layoff from an ankle injury only Tuesday. But the player upon whom Pastner relies the most was so limited that he considered not playing him until Alvarado begged him to let him play.
Still, the Jackets took a 20-12 lead midway through the first half on a Bubba Parham 3-pointer and led 25-22 at the 5:26 mark on one of Devoe’s five 3-pointers. However, with a Jackets’ lapse coinciding with a Bulldogs surge, the Jackets trailed 35-27 by the time both teams retreated to their locker rooms at halftime.
After that, they didn’t make a serious challenge, falling behind by as many as 16 and then benefiting from a scoring flurry from Devoe in the final minute to close the final margin to four.
In their final 10 possessions of the first half after Devoe’s 3-pointer, the Jackets turned the ball over three times, shot 0-for-4 from the free-throw line and made but one basket.
The sequence got started with Georgia forward Rayshaun Hammonds beating Tech forward Moses Wright on the baseline for a basket to cut the lead to 25-24. At the other end, Wright earned a one-and-one with a foul on Hammonds, but then missed the front end.
On Georgia’s ensuing possession, UGA guard Sahvir Wheeler missed a reverse, and then Hammonds beat Wright for the rebound, tipping it in to take a 26-25 lead.
“(Hammonds) took the ball from Moses on the tip-in,” Pastner said.
Adding to his woes, Wright lost the ball on Tech’s next possession and fouled in the process.
In the matchup of power forwards, Hammonds finished the first half with 19 points on 8-for-11 shooting with five rebounds, where Wright had two points and three rebounds on 1-for-4 shooting.
To his credit, Wright showed much better form in the second half, attacking the basket and hitting the glass. He finished with 18 points and eight rebounds.
The game highlighted Wright’s value as a scorer around the basket and springy rebounder, and Tech’s diminished potential when he’s not at his best.
“(Hammonds’ first-half play) just set the tone for them, and then Moses was outstanding in the second half, but it just needed to be both halves,” Pastner said.
“He’s a high-level player when he comes with high energy,” Devoe said of Wright. “First half, he really wasn’t there with his energy level, and same thing with Khalid Moore.”
With Banks off his game (four points, four rebounds) and Alvarado gimpy (Pastner said that Tech was playing “five on four” because of his limited agility), Devoe continued his stellar play, scoring a career-high 34 points on 12-for-20 shooting, including 5-for-7 from 3-point range. The sophomore particularly impressed Pastner with his career-high 10 rebounds, and he further played 37 minutes without a turnover.
“I was just being confident, making plays and being a playmaker,” Devoe said. “Just getting it where my teammates were throwing it, kicking it out to me. I was just knocking down shots. I felt pretty good (Wednesday).”
In Tech’s first two games, Devoe scored 22 both games on a combined 14-for-23 shooting. In reaching the 30-point threshold (with the game out of reach, he tossed in three 3-pointers in the final 40 seconds, including a buzzer-beater from just across the midcourt stripe), Devoe became Tech’s first 30-point scorer since Josh Okogie in January 2018.
The list of 30-point scorers at Tech is long, but is composed almost entirely of Jackets greats. It is not a group one joins by accident.
“Devoe is really improved,” UGA coach Tom Crean said.
As is normally the case, Tech defended well. The Bulldogs shot 42.2 percent from the floor. Taking out Hammonds’ contributions (11-for-20 for 26 points), they were 36.4 percent. Star freshman Anthony Edwards finished with 18, but shot 5-for-15.
“I thought Hammonds was a stud (Wednesday),” Pastner said.
The Jackets shot 47.5 percent (29-for-61) and a hearty 42.1 percent from 3-point range (8-for-19), but sabotaged themselves with 12-for-23 shooting from the free-throw line. Three of the misses were at the front end of one-and-ones. Tech also continued its turnover struggles with 15, which UGA turned into 18 points.
“We’ve got to get Jose healthy,” Pastner said. “That’s the big thing for us. Moses Wright, we need him to play the full 40 minutes, because when he can play like he did in the second half and put two halves together, that’s a big bonus for us.”
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