Georgia Tech shredded by No. 2 Virginia

CHARLOTTESVILLE, VA - FEBRUARY 27: De'Andre Hunter #12 of the Virginia Cavaliers shoots past James Banks III #1 of the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets in the first half during a game at John Paul Jones Arena on February 27, 2019 in Charlottesville, Virginia. (Photo by Ryan M. Kelly/Getty Images)

Credit: Ryan M. Kelly

Credit: Ryan M. Kelly

CHARLOTTESVILLE, VA - FEBRUARY 27: De'Andre Hunter #12 of the Virginia Cavaliers shoots past James Banks III #1 of the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets in the first half during a game at John Paul Jones Arena on February 27, 2019 in Charlottesville, Virginia. (Photo by Ryan M. Kelly/Getty Images)

The outcome of Georgia Tech’s Wednesday game against No. 2 Virginia was the conflation of two realities. One, how good the Cavaliers can be. Two, how inferior the Yellow Jackets are to Virginia.

In the wake of Tech’s 81-51 defeat to the Cavaliers at John Paul Jones Arena, coach Josh Pastner commended his team’s play despite losing by the widest margin of the past two seasons.

The Cavaliers shot 55.6 percent from the field, the season high for a Tech opponent, and took advantage of the Jackets on the offensive glass, with 11 offensive rebounds to Tech’s 15 defensive rebounds.

“I thought the defensive energy was fine,” Pastner said. “I had no issue with it. I just think Virginia’s really good.”

On offense, Tech did turn the ball over only seven times, the first time this season the Jackets’ turnover total was in the single digits. The Jackets mixed in occasional clean possessions that created layups and dunks out of its Princeton-style offense, but were their typically errant selves. Among the misses were two wide-open layup attempts.

“We had good offense, even though we didn’t shoot (well),” Pastner said. “We got good actions, we had good pace, the ball moved. We took care of the ball. We missed shots.”

In a meeting of teams at the opposite ends of the ACC spectrum, Virginia (25-2 overall, 13-2 ACC) secured a double-bye for the ACC tournament while Tech (12-17, 4-12) clinched another appearance in the tournament’s opening round. The Jackets have been a fixture of the tournament’s first day, having played on it 12 of the past 13 years.  Tech has also lost nine of its past 10.

“They’re good enough to win the national championship,” Pastner said of the Cavaliers. “And maybe the odds-on favorite to do it.”

The game started encouragingly for the Jackets, who took an 11-7 lead when forward Kristian Sjolund hit a 3-pointer from the left wing on a feed from guard Jose Alvarado. However, guard Braxton Key answered with a 3-pointer for Virginia, forward Moses Wright traveled, Virginia got under Tech’s zone for a dunk by forward De’Andre Hunter with an and-one free throw. After Wright missed an ill-advised jumper, Tech appeared to defend a pass to Hunter in the corner improperly, enabling him to drive the baseline for another basket. Alvarado missed a tough jumper and then Virginia guard Kyle Guy got open from the corner for a 3-pointer, at which point Pastner called timeout. It was an 11-0 run to take an 18-11 lead, and, given Virginia’s defensive prowess, the began to end there, with 12:33 left in the first half.

“I think the energy was there, but, like I said, they had great players and they were making tough shots,” Tech center James Banks said.

From there, Virginia was masterful on offense, with guard Ty Jerome repeatedly taking guard Michael Devoe into the lane for baskets and finishing with 19 points on 8-for-13 shooting. The Cavaliers also exploited the Jackets with a series of corner 3-pointers, as Miami did in its 80-65 win over Tech this past Saturday.

Three consecutive Virginia possessions early in the second half illustrated Virginia’s offensive prowess. On the first, Jerome scored against Alvarado in the lane on a patient up-and-under move. On the next, Virginia got Tech’s zone moving side to side with ball movement, creating space for a corner 3-pointer by Guy. On the third, Jerome lobbed a cross-court pass to Guy in the same corner, bringing both Banks and forward Khalid Moore to challenge him.

Guy beat the double team by slipping a bounce pass along the baseline to forward Mamadi Diakite, who passed to Hunter under the basket for an easy score.

“They do a good job,” UVA coach Tony Bennett said of the Jackets. “You can see their inconsistencies that Josh has with the young guys. They did some good stuff, but it’s a little, like I said, inconsistent. But they’re pretty good with their pressure, so you’d better have pass fakes.”

Virginia’s 81 points were two shy of its season high against an ACC opponent.

“They’re a really good team,” Gueye said. “They were moving the ball.”

It’s Tech’s second game in a row giving up 80 points or more after not giving up any in the first 27 games. Pastner said part of the letdown was the insertion of Sjolund into the starting lineup, as it was a move to increase offense at the cost of weakening the defense, which has been a strength. Wednesday was Sjolund’s fourth consecutive start.

“I’ve traded defense for offense, and Kristian has helped us offensively,” Pastner said. “It’s just we haven’t been as efficient defensively. But we’ve got to figure that out. We’ve got to keep helping him grow.”

Tech was led by Alvarado with 12 points, although he failed to secure a defensive rebound (as did Devoe), much to Pastner’s chagrin. Pastner views guard rebounding on defense as an indicator of effort. Alvarado was averaging 3.3 defensive rebounds per game prior to Wednesday and Devoe 3.1.

Wright played a third consecutive productive game, with six points, seven rebounds, two steals, block and an assist. Banks had 11 points and seven rebounds.

Tech plays next on Sunday at home against Boston College, which will be senior night for guard Brandon Alston and Gueye. Junior Sylvester Ogbonda, who is on track to graduate in May, will also participate.

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