Georgia Tech finally reeled one in Sunday.
Before a full-throated McCamish Pavilion crowd and steeled by a refusal to buckle, Tech scored a 66-60 win over Virginia. It was a satisfying result for the Yellow Jackets, who have collected a series of losses in ACC play in which they’ve given laudable efforts that ultimately have fallen short.
“We’ve played some good games,” coach Brian Gregory said. “We played well last weekend against Wake Forest, different things. But that toughness, that grit plus all the other stuff, I thought (Sunday) was the first time that you saw longer glimpses of that from our program.”
Tech (12-8 overall, 2-6 ACC) ended a five-game losing streak to Virginia (15-6, 5-3), which entered the game having won its past four games and had been holding ACC opponents to a league-best 52.3 points. Along with Tech’s road wins at Georgia and N.C. State last season, Sunday’s victory rates among the most significant in Gregory’s two-season tenure.
Virginia coach Tony Bennett “has developed a great program at Virginia, and for me, it makes this win really have an impact,” Gregory said.
The Jackets did it with a defense-driven rally in the final eight minutes, when they erased a 57-48 deficit with 8:12 remaining by closing out the game on an 18-3 run. Going back to a 3-pointer for the Cavaliers by Milton High grad Evan Nolte with 9:40 to go, Virginia made one basket in its final 15 attempts, this after making 21 of 40 to that point.
In that stretch, Tech was the more active team, winning loose balls, denying Virginia at the rim and extending possessions with offensive rebounds. It was the sort of moment that had largely eluded the Jackets through the first seven conference games. Against the likes of N.C. State, Duke, North Carolina and Miami, Tech had shown a capacity to compete, but ultimately did itself in at different times with lapses of focus, inferior effort on the glass or a bundle of poorly executed possessions.
Tech’s loss at Clemson last Tuesday was typical – the Jackets led by 10 midway through the first half and by four with less than four minutes in the half, but a 10-0 Tigers run to finish the half submerged the Jackets.
Sunday, center Daniel Miller and forward Robert Carter blocked Virginia forward Akil Mitchell three times at the rim in the final 4:20. Forward Marcus Georges-Hunt drew a charge on leading scorer Joe Harris, part of a strong second half of defense in which Harris scored four points after gouging the Jackets for 14 in the first.
On the offensive end, guard Mfon Udofia shook off a shooting slump with a team-high 15 points, including a 3-pointer that started the Tech rally from nine down and a pull-up jumper near the elbow that gave the Jackets the lead for good at 59-57 with 1:19 to go.
Guard Chris Bolden used a Miller screen to hit a jumper from near the free-throw line to tie the game at 57 with 3:45 to go. Carter and Bolden added 14, with Carter shooting 6-for-8 from the field.
“Sometimes, it all comes together, and that’s what happened (Sunday),” Gregory said.
Gregory declined to declare that his team had turned a corner or cleared a barrier.
“Where we’re at right now in the process, you can’t be for sure, unfortunately,” he said.
The Jackets’ next test comes quickly, Tuesday night against Florida State, another formidable but beatable opponent.
“We’re still at the bottom of the ACC,” Holsey said. “We’ve still got a lot to prove.”