Georgia Tech center James Banks did it to N.C. State again in its own arena.
Eight months after perhaps shattering the Wolfpack’s NCAA tournament hopes last season with a last-second game-winning dunk and free throw, Banks led the Yellow Jackets to victory again Tuesday night in a raucous PNC Arena by scoring the game-winning free throws with 2.1 seconds remaining in overtime.
“Honestly, just to start, open ACC (play) here, a road win in the ACC and our first game of the year being 100 (percent), it’s big time for this team,” Banks said. “With everything this team is going through, and just being able to come out here on the road and make a statement, I feel like it’s a statement win.”
In a game doubling both as the season opener and the first game of ACC play, Tech claimed an 82-81 overtime win over the Wolfpack in a game in which it trailed by as many as 16 points in the first half and didn’t lead until the overtime session.
Banks was particularly forceful in securing the outcome for Tech. Running the floor, showing more offensive skill and using all of his 7-foot-5 wingspan to alter shots, Banks amassed 20 points on 8-for-13 shooting to go with 14 rebounds, five blocks, three assists and only one turnover in 40 minutes of play.
A wild sequence brought the game to its close. Tech (1-0 overall, 1-0 ACC) was down 81-80 with 35 seconds remaining after two free throws by Wolfpack guard C.J. Bryce put N.C. State (0-1, 0-1) in the lead. In the ensuing possession, with about 22 seconds remaining, guard Jose Alvarado drove from the wing and tried to feed Banks.
It was a play remarkably similar to the one that Alvarado executed last March when he dribbled upcourt and set up Banks for his game-winning dunk and free throw with one second remaining in regulation to upset the Wolfpack 63-61.
This time, however, the pass was stolen by N.C. State guard Devon Daniels, who dribbled up the right wing with Tech players in pursuit, needing to foul him to stop the clock and get a chance to get the ball back.
Rather than slow down or let himself be fouled, Daniels made a slightly off-target pass to the middle of the floor to forward Manny Bates. The ball slipped through his hands and bounced into the corner, where Tech guard Bubba Parham dove for the ball, only to miss it and slide into the N.C. State bench, while the ball somehow stayed inbounds.
Tech forward Khalid Moore won it and handed off to guard Michael Devoe, who passed ahead to Alvarado. With about nine seconds remaining, Alvarado shot a 3 from the left wing, but his shot was off, only for Moore, having run the length of the court since winning the ball, to win the offensive rebound against three N.C. State players under the basket.
Moore took one dribble, pivoted and slipped a wrap-around pass to Banks, who was fouled as he rose up to the rim.
“It was a crazy sequence of plays, but I’m glad we ended up with it,” Devoe said. “It was a great win.”
A 68% free-throw shooter last season, Banks then made both free throws to give Tech the 81-80 lead. N.C. State coach Kevin Keatts called timeout after the first make to set up a play and perhaps put pressure on Banks. He said he didn’t feel it, and even looked over to the N.C. State bench and warned them it didn’t matter.
“Me and my mom, we pray all the time, and that’s the first thing she prays for, make sure he makes his free throws,” Banks said. “I went up there with confidence in that if nothing else. Me and my mom, just making free throws.”
It was all the more impressive considering how taxed Banks had to be after playing for 40 minutes.
“At that point in time, it’s falling back on your training,” Banks said. “How many free throws you make this summer, how many free throws you make before you leave the gym. It’s just, like, make ’em. That’s what it comes down to. You’ve got to do what you’ve got to do.”
N.C. State was at a considerable disadvantage, as it was without its two best players, forward D.J. Funderburk and guard Markell Johnson. The latter was out with an ankle injury and the former was suspended after being charged for larceny property damage for damaging two boots placed on his car and driving off with two additional boots, according to reports.
Still, it was a thrilling and satisfying win for Tech (1-0 overall, 1-0 ACC), which has made no secret of its intention to earn its first NCAA tournament berth since 2010. The Jackets were overwhelmed at first, falling behind 8-0 early and 21-9 at the 13:45 mark.
Eventually, the Jackets found their footing, even as the Wolfpack continued to pour it in from the perimeter, shooting 5-for-9 from 3-point range in the first half. Trailing 39-24 at the four-minute mark, Tech closed to 42-35 by halftime.
“They were just on fire,” coach Josh Pastner said. “They just punched us in the mouth to start. We got down 15, but we didn’t panic.”
Tech’s first game was littered with the messiness associated with season openers, but also the tension of late-February matchups. Throughout the second half, playing much better defense and scoring in transition, the Jackets slowly reduced the lead, tying the game four different times in regulation but never taking the lead. Banks was responsible for a big basket in regulation as well, scoring on a dunk with 1:37 left in regulation on a feed from Alvarado that tied the game at 75. The basket turned out to be the final points of regulation, as both teams missed two potential game-winners each.
The crowd of 17,133 was fully engaged, trying to will the outmanned Wolfpack to victory.
“It was like a boxing match,” Pastner said.
Who better to win a boxing match than a heavyweight.
“I feel like I should always be the anchor for the team when it comes to looking for somebody,” Banks said. “I’m an old guy, I’m a post guy, I want to be one of the better players in the ACC, so I feel like, if everything is a scramble, they should at least be able to depend on me.”