Fistfuls of missed opportunities prevented Georgia Tech from scoring a sizable upset Wednesday night, instead sending the Yellow Jackets to a 52-49 loss to No. 9 Virginia Tech at McCamish Pavilion.
Defending well and benefiting from an off shooting night by the Hokies, Georgia Tech (9-6, 1-1 ACC) could not find enough plays to score its biggest win of the season.
“Look, all you can ask for is a chance to win the game, and we had some chances,” Tech coach Josh Pastner said. “We just didn’t capitalize.”
That inability was underscored in the Jackets’ final six possessions after guard Brandon Alston banked in a drive to give his team a 49-47 lead with 3:25 to play, part of an 13-3 run in which Michael Devoe, Alston and Gueye all canned 3-pointers. Gueye’s, launched from the corner in front of the Georgia Tech bench to tie the score at 47-47 with 4:19 to play, was the most unlikely. Gueye, who plays largely out of the post, had only taken one 3-pointer this season after making 2 of 11 last season.
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But, after Alston’s basket, the Jackets did not score in their final six possessions, some of them in agonizing fashion. Trailing 50-49 with 1:24 to play, Devoe missed the front end of a one-and-one. On the next possession, Devoe drove the late with the shot clock running down and set up forward James Banks for an alley-oop lay-in try that he missed.
Down 51-49 and taking possession with 24 seconds left, the Jackets botched the possession when Alston threw the ball out of bounds with 3.4 seconds left. With about seven seconds left in regulation, Banks set a high screen for Alston and rolled to the basket and appeared open for a split second. However, Alston continued his dribble and then, appearing to try to find Gueye in the corner, got caught in the air when Hokies guard Nickell Alexander-Walker got in the passing lane. Alston threw the ball away.
Alvarado said he took full responsibility for the play.
“We’ve just got to learn from it,” Alvarado said.
They were gifted one final chance when Justin Robinson made one of two free throws with 1.8 seconds left. But Georgia Tech squandered that opportunity, too, when Gueye stepped on the line as he threw a full-court pass to Banks, who caught the ball near the free-throw line and was prepared to feed it to Alvarado, who was rushing up the right wing for a game-tying 3-point try.
It was the 18th and final turnover of the game for the Jackets.
“We had it,” Alvarado said. “We had the game.”
It mirrored Tech’s offensive malfunctions at the end of the first half. Down 11-2 early, the Jackets closed in on the Hokies and had four possessions to take the lead or tie the game in the final five minutes of the half but were unable to seize the opportunity. In the Jackets’ last three possessions of the half, Devoe missed the front end of a one-and-one, forward Moses Wright lost the ball out of bounds on the dribble and then, coming out of a timeout with 9.3 seconds left, Devoe lost the ball on the drive, a turnover that the Hokies turned into a layup that barely beat the buzzer.
Where a 3-pointer would have tied the score at 27-27 going into the half, the Jackets were instead down 29-24.
“Our guys played their tails off,” Pastner said. “It was a great effort. It was a high-level game. It was back and forth. It was just one of those things where, in the end, the ball didn’t bounce our way.”
It was a revealing game for the Jackets, who had won their past three with highly efficient offense against inferior competition. Against perhaps the strongest opponent it had faced to this date, Tech showed it could defend and compete, better than most would have expected, but demonstrated once again its offensive shortcomings.
It was a game that the Jackets were expected to lose, but, for their faint postseason hopes, was one that they needed to pull out.
For the game, the Jackets shot fairly well – 17-for-38 from the field for 44.7 percent – but surrendered 18 out of 59 possessions with turnovers and also were 9-for-16 from the line, including two front ends of one-and-ones.
Before a spirited crowd of 6,166, Alvarado played one of his best games of the season, scoring a game-high 20 points, including 3-for-5 from 3-point range. Alvarado has struggled behind the arc much of the season, entering the game making 25 percent of 3-point tries. The Jackets played without guard Curtis Haywood, who was out with strep throat.
Virginia Tech (14-1, 3-0) shot 17-for-57 from the field (29.8 percent) and 5-for-27 from 3-point range (18.5 percent) – both were season lows by a significant margin. The Hokies entered the game No. 2 in the country in 3-point field-goal percentage at 44.2 percent and fourth nationally in field-goal percentage (51.4 percent).
“I thought our path to breaking (Tech’s zone) was good,” Hokies coach Buzz Williams said. “Obviously, we didn’t make the shots we typically make, but that’s a credit to them.”
Pastner was not in much of a mood for reveling in credit for a well-played defensive game. An opportunity was lost.
“I’m not into moral victories,” he said. “Either you win or you lose. You lose, and you’re sick to your stomach for the next 48 hours.”
Tech’s next game is at Syracuse on Saturday.