Georgia Tech finishes regular season strong

Georgia Tech’s final home game of the regular season was something less than appointment television. A game between two teams in the bottom third of the ACC, one at the absolute bottom, was significant mostly as the final home game for the Yellow Jackets’ seniors and for helping determine the first-day pairings of the ACC tournament that begins Wednesday in Greensboro, N.C.

But it may have indicated that Tech, 31 games into the season, has become the team it hoped to be before a string of injuries threw sand in the gears. After a slow start, the Jackets made easy work of Virginia Tech, swamping the overmatched Hokies 62-51 at McCamish Pavilion.

The victory backed the Jackets’ upset of No. 7 Syracuse on Tuesday and revealed a team that is playing, by far, the best offense in coach Brian Gregory’s three seasons.

“We did a lot of good things (Saturday) and got a lot of good basketball from a lot of different guys,” Gregory said. “So, hopefully feeling pretty good heading into Greensboro.”

With the win, Tech improved to 15-16 overall and 6-12 in the ACC. Coupled with Miami’s win over Wake Forest on Saturday, the Jackets claimed the No. 11 seed in the ACC tournament and will play No 14-seed Boston College at 7 p.m. Wednesday. The two teams met last year in the first round of the tournament, with Boston College routing the Jackets 84-64.

Tech swept the Eagles this season, including a 74-71 win Feb. 12 in which Marcus Georges-Hunt won the game with a last-second 3-pointer.

“I heard about it from the guys,” said guard Trae Golden, who a year ago played for Tennessee before transferring over the summer. “It’s kind of like a revenge game.”

Forward Robert Carter continued his strong play with a team-high 16 points on 7-for-9 shooting. Golden racked up eight assists, his best at Tech, to go with 14 points. Center Daniel Miller scored 14 with nine rebounds before being removed, along with Golden and forward Kammeon Holsey, in the final minute to a warm ovation from the 8,155 present for Senior Day.

Virginia Tech (9-21, 2-16) played with seven scholarship players and will be the No. 15 seed against No. 10-seed Miami. Hokies forward Joey van Zegeren scored a career-high 21 points to lead all scorers.

While Georgia Tech’s 62 points didn’t exactly tax the scoreboard operator, the Hokies play one of the slower tempos in the country. The Jackets shot 49.0 percent from the field, which is the fourth-highest rate that anyone has shot against the Hokies this season and almost eight points better than the Hokies’ average in ACC games before Saturday.

The Jackets finished on a tear, scoring 48 points in the final 36 of their 55 possessions. Following on the Syracuse win, it was another game in which Tech avoided the mid-game offensive funks that have been costly this season.

“I thought from about the 10-minute mark through the rest of the game, I thought we got on the floor, we got some deflections, we moved the ball pretty well, we got to the glass,” Gregory said, “so I thought that was a big step.”

Starting with the Notre Dame game Feb. 26, when Carter returned to the starting lineup as he recovered from a torn meniscus and Gregory inserted guard Corey Heyward back in the starting lineup with Golden, the Jackets have had three games out of four with an assist/turnover ratio better than 2.0, an indicator of extraordinary offensive health. Consider that Creighton, the nation’s leader in that category, averaged 1.79 entering the weekend.

It is all the more impressive considering that, going into the Notre Dame game, Tech had had three such games in the first 89 games of Gregory’s tenure at the school, one against an ACC opponent.

“Everybody’s just kind of playing together, and everybody’s healthy,” Miller said. “It hurt us throughout the season, but it’s a good way to go into the tournament.”