Yellow Jackets lose overtime heartbreaker

After a brief reprieve from this unkind winter, Georgia Tech took another slug to the gut Saturday. Two free throws and 4.9 seconds away from victory, the Yellow Jackets were denied by a buzzer-beating 3-pointer in an 81-80 overtime loss to N.C. State at McCamish Pavilion.

Left in the detritus of Tech’s seventh loss in eight ACC games was a comeback from 14 points down in the first half and a superior rebounding performance.

“They’re disappointed,” coach Brian Gregory said of his players. “They’re heartbroken and had that feeling before.”

Tech (10-11 overall, 1-8 ACC) sought to build upon its 70-50 road win over No. 23 Miami on Wednesday, but instead added to its collection of excruciating defeats. In six of the Jackets’ eight league losses, the scoring margin at the one-minute mark of regulation was three points or fewer, including Saturday’s defeat.

In overtime, Tech led 80-78 with 6.5 seconds left after N.C. State guard Trevor Lacey drove for a layup. After a timeout, N.C. State fouled forward Quinton Stephens on the inbounds pass with 4.9 seconds left, sending him to the free-throw line for two shots. Stephens missed both, and the ball ended up again in the hands of Lacey, who accepted a pass just before halfcourt, took two dribbles and rose up from about four feet outside the 3-point arc over Tech guards Travis Jorgenson and Josh Heath.

Tech forward Marcus Georges-Hunt’s thought as the ball traveled through the air: “He’s not going to make it.”

Tech forward Charles Mitchell: “Not again. No B.S. shot (is) going to make it.”

N.C. State coach Mark Gottfried: “I think, when he got the ball and he got in position where he got a normal shot — it wasn’t a heave — he got to where he could shoot it, I think everybody in our group said, ‘That’s going in.’”

Lacey’s shot found the bottom of the basket. Stephens, who had made 10 of 12 free throws before Saturday and was put into the game after Lacey’s basket with 6.5 seconds left for his free-throw prowess, walked expressionlessly through the postgame handshake line and off the court.

Said Gottfried, “We were fortunate today.”

Said Gregory, “You could look at 10 different things that cost you that (game), not just two free throws.”

Indeed, Tech was forced to fight uphill after falling behind 17-3 and 19-5 less than seven minutes into the game, as the Jackets scored one basket and turned the ball over twice in their first 10 possessions. However, they scored 77 points in the remaining 63 possessions, an exceedingly efficient ratio. Much of the production was provided by another relentless effort on the offensive glass.

The Jackets grabbed 22 offensive rebounds, nearly as many as N.C. State’s 24 defensive rebounds, and scored 21 second-chance points to the Wolfpack’s four. Center Demarco Cox had eight offensive rebounds (10 total) and 10 points while Mitchell had four offensive rebounds (11 total) and 18 points.

They helped Tech overcome its 39.7 percent shooting from the field by providing 73 shots to N.C. State’s 62. Georges-Hunt scored a team-high 23 points on 7-for-15 shooting to go with an 8-for-9 game from the free-throw line. He had one point at halftime.

It again went for naught. Tech will play No. 4 Duke in Durham, N.C., on Wednesday.

“It hurts, because we know we’re a good team, and we know we can win these games,” Mitchell said.