After seven consecutive defeats, the right pieces fell into the right places for Georgia Tech Wednesday night at McCamish Pavilion. The end result was a 73-65 win for the Yellow Jackets over Pittsburgh, which itself tasted defeat for the 10th consecutive game.
A huge game from point guard Jose Alvarado, superior defensive play by center James Banks and regrettable foul-line shooting by Pitt helped secure victory for the Jackets.
“First off, a good win for us,” coach Josh Pastner said. “Losing stinks, winning’s fun.”
The Jackets’ seven-game losing streak was largely the product of ineffective offensive play, including three games in which they couldn’t even break 50 points. At least for one night, Tech (12-15 overall, 4-10 ACC) broke free of its pattern of errant 3-point shooting and scoring droughts.
The Jackets raced to an 18-point first half lead, saw the advantage dwindle to a single point with about eight minutes to play and then closed out the win with unusually efficient offense.
Pitt (12-15, 2-12) was perhaps the team that the Jackets needed to play. Of the seven consecutive losses, five were to teams in the AP top 25.
“We had two teams coming in that were struggling,” Pitt coach Jeff Capel said. “I thought they played with a sense of urgency. I thought Josh had his guys ready to play.”
Alvarado was the most significant factor in Tech’s success. He scored a career-high 29 points, a total boosted by 6-for-6 shooting in the final minute when Pitt was fouling to get the ball back. Still, he was 9-for-13 from the field and also had six rebounds, five assists, two steals, one block and no assists.
After a six-game shooting slump in which he shot 10-for-59 from the field (3-for-26 from 3-point range) and averaged four points per game, Alvarado has scored 46 points on 15-for-24 shooting (5-for-12 from 3-point range).
“Alvarado is a big-time competitor,” Capel said. “We told our guys coming into this game, I know that kid and I know his spirit. With his team struggling, I knew that he would try to take it upon himself to be aggressive and have a great game. He was sensational.”
Alvarado made one of the biggest baskets of the game coming out of a timeout at the 2:27 mark with the Jackets ahead 62-59. Accepting the ball on a high ball screen, Alvarado muscled his way to the basket with the shot clock running down and forced in a shot off the glass to push the lead to five points.
“That was my little swag, I guess – pulled out the muscle,” he said. “It was a tough layup and I’m glad I made it.”
Alvarado made another play that didn’t show up in the box score not long after, when Banks fouled out with 2:01 to play on a debatable call. Pastner was unusually hot in arguing the call, but Alvarado tried to draw him away from the official.
“I just didn’t want a tech,” Alvarado said. “I know coach can be a little crazy, so I just told him, ‘Coach, I got you. Don’t worry, and we’re going to try to get this W,’ and we did.”
Banks, Wright make contributions
Tech also benefited from exceptional interior defense by Banks, who rejected five shots in 37 minutes of play and altered many more attempts. The Panthers’ method is to try hard at the basket, which helped them get to the free-throw line 38 times. But Pitt was 10-for-28 on shots by the basket and 0-for-5 on other shots in the lane, a reflection of Banks’ play in challenging drives. Forwards Moses Wright (four blocks) and Abdoulaye Gueye (two blocks) had a hand in the effort as well.
Wright made a key late block after Tech went ahead 67-61 with one minute to play. On the next possession, Wright came on help defense to deny Au’Diese Tony at the basket to help seal the game.
The Jackets also got a monumental break in Pitt’s shooting at the line. The Panthers made only 20 of their 38 free throws (53 percent), well below their season rate of 71 percent.
Tech also got help from guard Curtis Haywood, who was 2-for-32 from 3-point range in the previous nine games. Haywood was 2-for-4 from 3-point range and scored eight points total. Aside from his four blocks, Wright contributed eight rebounds and two assists, mitigating his 2-for-10 shooting from the field.
“That’s Moses,” Alvarado said. “Y’all should see him at practice. That’s him, the whole him, the whole practice. If his energy is up there, he can be real good.”
The Jackets shot 24-for-48 from the field, an even 50 percent, far above recent levels. When their 18-point first-half lead was reduced to 52-51 with 7:57 left in the game, they turned the ball over for the sixth time in 21 second-half possessions. But after that, they were able to hold off Pitt by scoring on their next 12 possessions.
“I promise you – our guys have gotten better, and we’re improving,” Pastner said.
In reality, it was a game that Tech should have won, given Pitt’s last-place standing in the league. But, particularly given the circumstances, it was a needed result.
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