Tech looking for end-game solutions

If Saturday’s Georgia Tech-Pittsburgh game plays out like the Yellow Jackets’ first four ACC games, it will be decided in the final minutes.

What the Jackets need is for the end of game to play out differently. In three of the four games, the margin at the one-minute mark of the second half was three points or less. Tech lost two of them and went to overtime in the third, ultimately losing at Notre Dame in double overtime Jan. 3.

“When you’re that close, it’s even more frustrating,” coach Brian Gregory said. “But I feel good about our guys (and) the position they’re putting themselves in in those situations. Let’s be honest. We need a break here and there. You’ve just got to keep fighting and just keep believing that the break’s going to happen.”

Winless in four ACC games, Tech will play the Panthers trying to avoid the sixth 0-5 start in ACC play in team history, but the second in the past three years. It will be the Jackets’ first visit to Pittsburgh to play an ACC game. Pittsburgh is 2-2 in the ACC and 12-5 overall. The Panthers were ranked No. 73 in RPI as of Friday afternoon, according to ESPN. Tech, 9-7 overall, is No. 60 in RPI.

In Wednesday’s 62-59 loss to the No. 12 Fighting Irish, the Jackets scored three points over their final six possessions, rendering moot a commendable defensive effort over the same duration. With the exception of one possession that ended in a held ball and gave the ball back to Notre Dame, Gregory largely was satisfied with the shots that the final possessions produced.

With just under a minute to play, for instance, forward Marcus Georges-Hunt drove the lane for a layup but missed. Forward Robert Sampson and center Demarco Cox were in position for an offensive rebound, Gregory said, but couldn’t secure the ball.

“If the ball bounces a little different, Robert’s right at the rim for the tip,” he said.

While the agony of the team and fans builds with the losses, Gregory continues to look optimistically at the remainder of the season. After the disastrous offensive performance against Syracuse (Tech’s 26.3 percent shooting from the field was the lowest of Gregory’s tenure), the Jackets shot 43.8 percent in the past two games and 41.7 percent from 3-point range. The latter is particularly remarkable, as Tech ranked last in Division I in 3-point shooting percentage before the Wake Forest game Saturday, at 23.4 percent. The Jackets have improved to second-to-last.

With guards Josh Heath and Corey Heyward replacing Travis Jorgenson and Chris Bolden in the starting lineup, Tech held Notre Dame to 43.5 percent shooting, the Irish’s second-lowest rate of the season.

“All those things, we’re improving,” Gregory said. “We just need to keep on the track, keep chugging along.”

Against Syracuse, Tech scored four points in the final five minutes, missing all seven field-goal attempts. Against the Irish on Wednesday, the Jackets scored five points in the final five minutes, making one of five field-goal tries. (On the other hand, Tech scored nine points in the final five minutes of the second half in the first game against Notre Dame, coming back from a three-point deficit to force overtime.)

“We do a lot of end-of-game special situations,” Gregory said. “Special teams, we call them. You’ve got to keep working on it.”

Last season, Tech was 3-3 in ACC regular-season games that were decided by five points or fewer.

Gregory said that he’ll stay with the same starting lineup from the Notre Dame game, with Heyward getting his second start of the season and Heath his fourth.

“We need to keep fighting,” Gregory said. “I have all the confidence in the world our guys will continue to do that.”