Forward Abdoulaye Gueye and guard Jose Alvarado demonstrated their importance to Georgia Tech in the Yellow Jackets’ loss to Louisville on Saturday by their absence. They revealed it again Tuesday night, this time by contributing to Tech’s 63-61 win over Notre Dame at McCamish Pavilion.
Granted clearance to play after Alvarado had missed a game with a groin injury and Gueye had missed two games due to an unspecified medical issue, the two were main cogs as the Jackets earned a critical win in returning to .500 in ACC play.
“Those guys, they bring more to the game than what you see in the stat sheet,” center James Banks said of Gueye and Alvarado. “They bring their toughness, their will, they bring their drive to compete.”
The two were at the heart of a strong second half in which the Jackets were better taking care of the ball and also shooting it and kept up the defensive pressure on the Irish. Gueye scored eight points with seven rebounds in the second half while Alvarado scored nine. (Guard Brandon Alston, who also was on the bench after missing the past two games due to a personal matter, did not play.)
“I thought Jose and ‘A.D.’ were a little rusty in the first half,” coach Josh Pastner said. “There was some rustiness because they hadn’t done anything until (Tuesday) on the floor. So (Monday) they got some abbreviated, little work, but really (Tuesday) was the first thing they did, in shootaround. It was good to get ’em back. We’re a better team with them.”
Tech (11-8 overall, 3-3 ACC) picked up a win after losing back-to-back games to Clemson on the road and Louisville at home, the latter by the largest margin of defeat at home in Pastner’s tenure (28 points). The Jackets next face No. 2 Duke on the road on Saturday followed by a home matchup with No. 11 North Carolina next Tuesday.
“We’ll get right to working on it, but my whole thing is, it’s the ACC,” Pastner said. “Everyone’s good.”
Tuesday night, the Jackets trailed 30-28 at halftime after permitting Notre Dame (11-8, 1-5) to score eight second-chance points off 11 offensive rebounds (Tech had two on four offensive rebounds) and also sacrificing 10 of their 36 possessions with turnovers.
In the second half, after pushing ahead to a 47-44 lead, the Jackets socked Notre Dame with an 11-3 run starting at the 7:19 mark to expand the lead to 58-47 to secure the win.
Alvarado hit two free throws after Notre Dame coach Mike Brey was hit with a technical for arguing a foul call. With Tech retaining possession, guard Michael Devoe scored on a drive for a four-point possession. After the Irish answered with a 3-pointer, the Jackets got one of the big breaks of the game. Tech nearly lost the ball three times but managed to win it back, the last when forward Khalid Moore had it with the shot clock running down. Moore recovered the ball and hit a desperation jumper off the glass as the shot clock wound down for a 53-47 lead.
“It’s unbelievable,” Brey said. “It’s kind of been a little bit about who we are, not being able to get a 50/50 ball in the last four minutes.”
“Almost had it and almost had it and then we were finally able to break through,” Banks said of the play. “And he made the shot and it was big-time. I told you, the energy he brought (Tuesday) was amazing.”
Said Alvarado: “I don’t know if he meant to make it, but he threw it up, and it went in.”
Brey said he thought he had turned back to his bench when he protested the call that bought him his technical.
“I’ve got to be better there,” he said. “But I turned around and a big-time ref would just kind of let his whistle fall out of his mouth and we’ll play those last four or five minutes. But decorum is decorum. I know the rule, and that’s on me.”
Also important in the second half? The Jackets turned the ball only four times after 10 in the first half, giving them more opportunities at a time when Banks and Gueye were finding the range on shots from the post.
“We’ve got to take care of the ball for us to even have a chance in the game,” Alvarado said, sounding a lot like his coach. “We had four in the second half and we got the win. I can imagine, if we had 10 in the second half, it would have been a little different game for us.”
Alvarado and Banks led the Jackets with 16 points each. Gueye added 13 and Devoe, rebounding from a subpar effort against Louisville, had 11 points with five assists (against one turnover), three rebounds and two steals. He also was on the floor for loose balls and took a charge late in the second half.
“The way we’re set up, it’s not about anyone’s offense,” Pastner said. “You have to get your game going through defense, 50/50 balls, first to the floor, charges, that type of energy, and then when you do that, your offense will come.”
It was another closely contested game between the two permanent partners. The 11 ACC games between Tech and Notre Dame have been decided by a total of 51 points.
It should be noted that Notre Dame is no powerhouse. The Irish lost two starters from their season-opening starting five to injury, and are also without forward Juwan Durham, who leads the ACC in blocked shots. Pastner loves to hold up Brey’s team as a template for his, as he has won consistently with juniors and seniors and refilling the pipeline. This team is unusually young, and the record reflects it. That said, the Jackets aren’t a powerhouse themselves and sorely needed the win Tuesday.
Notre Dame shot 32.3 percent from the field, its lowest rate of the season. The Jackets also induced 13 turnovers, 3.5 over Notre Dame’s season average.
“I think they’re a good team when they’ve got their bodies, and they had their bodies (Tuesday),” Brey said.
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