The basketball gods blessed Georgia Tech with a parting gift.
Operating with effort and offensive deftness, Tech was blessed with a 69-62 win over Wake Forest on Saturday afternoon in its final home game at Philips Arena. The Yellow Jackets, whose next home game will be in November in the new McCamish Pavilion, head into the ACC tournament with a modicum of good feeling.
“Great day for Georgia Tech all the way around,” coach Brian Gregory said, opening his postgame interview by congratulating the Tech women’s basketball team for its ACC tournament semifinal win over N.C. State.
After starting ACC play by losing seven of its first eight, Tech (11-19 overall, 4-12 ACC) took three of its last eight. The Jackets lost one game on an overtime buzzer-beater (to Virginia Tech) and another in which it missed two shots inside the final two minutes to tie or take the lead (Boston College).
With Boston College’s Saturday loss to Miami, Tech secured the No. 11 seed in the ACC tournament beginning Thursday at Philips Arena. The Jackets’ opponent, the No. 6 seed, will be determined by Sunday’s games. Clemson, Miami, N.C. State and Virginia are possibilities. The game is scheduled for 9 p.m. Thursday.
Despite leading scorer Glen Rice Jr.'s suspension for the past five games, Tech is playing its best basketball in the closing stretch of a challenging season. The upturn in the Jackets’ play has begun with better practices, point guard Mfon Udofia said. Players have increasingly heeded Gregory’s mandate to toil daily in practice.
“If we practice bad, I guess, the basketball gods [are aware],” Udofia said. “It works. We have a bad game. I feel like it just starts in practice.”
Tech’s offerings following its Wednesday loss to Boston College were evidently sufficient. The Jackets dropped a season-high 11 3-pointers on Wake Forest, eight in the first half, and then clubbed the Deacons with 20 points in the paint in the second half.
Tech charged halfway through the second half, overcoming a 48-44 deficit with a 17-3 run to tame Wake Forest (13-17, 4-12). Particularly in that sequence, Tech demonstrated its developing offensive proficiency with incisive ball movement and dialed-in jump shooting.
The Jackets scored baskets on seven of eight possessions, with six of the scores produced by assists. In the game, Tech was credited with 18 assists on 25 baskets, a rate of 72 percent.
“That meant we were sharing the ball and moving the ball,” Gregory said.
The Jackets’ season rate for assisted field goals is 48.7 percent. In the past nine games, it’s 58.2 percent.
Tech guard Jason Morris felled the Deacons with a career-high 22 points bolstered by five 3-pointers, also a career best. Morris has slumped through what he called “an awful year, in my opinion” and has played on a painful mid-foot sprain.
“We had a couple really tough games. We’ve lost tons of close games, and it just feels good to close out the regular season with a win,” Morris said.
Guard Derek Craig, a former walk-on put on scholarship this season by Gregory, responded smartly to the Senior Day start awarded to him and fellow senior guard Nick Foreman. Craig chipped in five points with two assists, a steal and a charge taken. He was on the floor for the entirety of the 17-3 run.
In fact, Tech outscored Wake Forest by 20 points in the 13 minutes he was on the floor.
“It was an incredible feeling, just a heck of a way to go out — get to come in, start before your home crowd and, luckily, I was given the good grace of playing well,” Craig said.
Udofia knows who he can thank.