The 3-point try by N.C. State guard Torin Dorn ripped through the net to give the Wolfpack the lead, and Jose Alvarado’s first thought was predictable.
“Damn, he made it,” the Georgia Tech guard recalled thinking.
Dorn’s basket enabled the Wolfpack to take back the lead at 61-60 with 6.1 seconds remaining in Wednesday’s Tech-N.C. State game at PNC Arena and looked like grist for a heartbreaking loss for the Jackets. However, it only set the stage for the most memorable play of the Yellow Jackets’ season, James Banks’ and-one dunk with 1.4 seconds to play off a feed from Alvarado.
After Dorn’s 3, Tech coach Josh Pastner called timeout.
“I said, ‘We’re going to win the game, we’re going to find a way,’” Pastner told the AJC. “‘You have played your tails off. We’re going to find a way to win the game.’”
Pastner designed a play for Banks to set a screen for Alvarado to take the inbounds pass on the run from guard Michael Devoe and dribble upcourt with options to take the shot or pass. While discouraged by Dorn’s clutch bucket, Alvarado said he kept his emotions to himself.
“I told my guys, ‘Come on, don’t put your head down,’” Alvarado said. “I play basketball for this type of reason. I wanted the ball in my hands when it came down to the last shot.”
Forward Moses Wright, playing in his hometown and subbed out for the play for sharpshooting forward Krisitian Sjolund, was not quite as effective keeping his emotions at bay.
“I was actually tearing up in the last five seconds when we drew up the play,” he said. “I was just so emotional. I just really wanted the win.”
On the play, Banks set a backcourt screen for Alvarado, giving him a little more room to take the pass just outside the 3-point arc as he curled upcourt against N.C. State guard Markell Johnson. Banks turned upcourt with him as Johnson tried to impede Alvarado.
“I was able to disrupt (Johnson), get him off his path, and after that, Jose was able to get a head of steam going towards the basket,” Banks said, “and in my head, personally, I was thinking Jose’s going to get a shot up. Either he’s going to make the shot and we win or I’m going to be there to clean it up and we win.”
Alvarado, while he has not had much live experience in such game-ending situations, showed poise as he dribbled to the basket. In the frontcourt, as he neared the 3-point arc on the right wind, he hit the brakes and dribbled behind his back, giving himself more space against Johnson to continue his foray to the basket.
There, N.C. State forward Wyatt Walker, who was at the top of the lane and assigned to Banks, shifted over in help defense and walled up to stop Alvarado’s penetration.
“I was hoping 33 (Walker) would pull up like how he did push up, and I could hit James,” Alvarado said. “If he didn’t, I was going to go for a layup, but he came up and I hit James.”
Alvarado’s decision was another demonstration of his cool thinking. In his first two seasons, Alvarado has had the valiant if foolhardy habit of driving into the lane in traffic and attempting layups against significantly taller players. But, even with the pressure of the moment and the clock running down, a situation in which players rush up shots, Alvarado handled it with deftness.
“I had a lot of time to bring it up the court,” he said.
With Walker drawn over, Alvarado slipped the pass to Banks, who had filled the lane after setting the screen in the backcourt. Banks took one step and threw down a dunk, getting fouled by Devon Daniels in the process.
“It felt amazing,” Banks said.
He said that once he got the ball, the only thing on his mind was finishing. Banks said he drew upon a play late in Tech’s 52-49 home loss to Virginia Tech in January. With Tech down 50-49 with under a minute to play, Banks failed to score on a lay-in off an alley-oop pass.
“It’s because I felt like I was being soft, I was being timid,” Banks said. “So I didn’t care how much time was left, I was going to attack the rim, and if time ran out, time ran out. But I was putting the ball in the hole. That’s what was going to happen.”
As Alvarado drove in from the right wing, Sjolund was stationed in the right corner.
“We had other options, but you had six seconds, so you had to do something,” Pastner said. “We executed, so it looks good. The play works when the ball goes in the hoop.”
It was Banks’ eighth basket in eight attempts (the Tech record for most baskets without a miss is 10, by Matt Geiger against Clemson in 1992) to go with nine rebounds, five blocks and three assists. Pastner called it his best game of the season.
(It was also Banks’ second highlight-worthy dunk in the Triangle this year, following his slam over Duke’s Zion Williamson at Cameron Indoor Stadium in January.)
With 1.4 seconds remaining, Pastner had a choice to have Banks miss the free throw, which would have put the Wolfpack in the position of having to score starting with the ball in their backcourt. Tech also had a foul to give, which might have further challenged N.C. State’s efforts.
Pastner said he and his staff conferred, and he contemplated calling timeout to tell Banks to miss the free throw. However, Pastner said that the team had not practiced that scenario, and he was concerned about the possibility of a Tech player fouling on the shot.
“That’s something that we probably need to practice on,” he said. “I just felt, with one second, we were probably going to be in a good position. They didn’t have any timeouts, so I just didn’t want anything crazy to happen. I was going to take our chances in a sense of, if we make it great, if we miss it, it is what it is. But I just didn’t want to put ourselves in a foul situation where we put ’em to the free-throw line. If they were going to make a shot, make ’em make a tough shot.”
Banks made the free throw. Then Dorn threw a baseball pass from the baseline to C.J. Price, who caught it at the top of the 3-point arc with forward Khalid Moore challenging the catch. He let the shot go with Wright challenging. The shot bounced off the rim. Tech had its win, 63-61.
Said Wright, “So relieved.”
Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.
Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.