Thursday afternoon, Georgia Tech was training its sights at practice on its Saturday game at Boston College. But the good feeling of the Yellow Jackets’ upset of Miami Wednesday night was hard to escape.
For one thing, as the Yellow Jackets warmed up, the scoreboard above the practice court at the Zelnak Basketball Center read “71-69,” the score of Tech’s victory over the No. 6 Hurricanes in Coral Gables, Fla.
It was one to savor. The Jackets rallied from 11 points with just under 12 minutes to go in the second half to give Miami its first home loss of the season. Down five with 6:01 to go, Tech finished the game on an 11-4 run, including five points from guard Chris Bolden and the final two on forward Marcus Georges-Hunt’s tip-in of his own miss as time expired. The Jackets, with their first road win over a top-10 team since the 2003-04 Final Four season, piled on top of each other on the court after the buzzer.
“I just felt great,” coach Brian Gregory said. “To see the guys celebrate like that, I said, those seniors will remember that forever.”
It was Tech’s first win over a ranked team since March 2010, preceding Gregory’s hire two years ago. It was a prize for a team that has been learning, mostly through defeat, how to commit to full effort and savvy play for 40 minutes. It was, perhaps, an announcement of a significant step in Tech’s development under Gregory.
Entering the game, the Jackets were 1-7 against the league’s top five teams – Miami, Duke, North Carolina, Virginia and N.C. State – with an average margin of defeat of 15.9 points. They were also 1-4 in games decided by five points or less. Tech turned the tables by shooting 50 percent from the field in the second half with just two turnovers and holding the Hurricanes to 36.4 percent shooting and six turnovers.
“The thing that we talked about beforehand (was) when we’ve been close, we’ve knocked on that door a few times,” Gregory said. “It was time for us to knock that door down a little bit, and that’s what we did.”
Gregory refrained, though, from assigning too much value to the win.
“I think you need to take a look at the next week to see if it was (a breakthrough),” he said. “Because if we go back and not respond, then it was just a step instead of a breakthrough.”
Indeed, confirmation might be in Saturday’s game at Boston College. For all of Tech’s successes this season, beating Georgia in back-to-back years for the first time since 1992-94, breaking an 11-game ACC road losing streak and winning multiple ACC road games for the first time since the 2007-08 season, the Jackets have not won consecutive ACC games under Gregory.
The win did not come without breaks. In the rally, Bolden hit a 3-pointer from the wing that slid in off the glass on a play that was run to the wrong side of the court.
“I was definitely surprised,” Bolden said. “I knew it was going to be off, but after that, somehow it rolled in.”
Bolden later scored a go-ahead basket on a layup in which he faked a behind-the-back pass to clear an opening to the basket. Bolden said he practices the move during warm-ups.
Said Bolden, “I think I actually traveled on that play, but I’ll take it.”
But at the win’s heart, which improved Tech to 16-13 overall and 6-11 in the ACC and clinched a winning regular-season record, was will, belief and a growing knack for playmaking.
“Definitely, everything that we’ve learned throughout the season, the losses that we had, showed in the game that we had,” Bolden said.
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