Another close call ends in defeat for Georgia Tech

Georgia Tech guard Deebo Coleman attempts a shot in the first half of the Yellow Jackets' game against Virginia Tech Feb. 23, 2022. (Danny Karnik/Georgia Tech Athletics)

Credit: Danny Karnik

Credit: Danny Karnik

Georgia Tech guard Deebo Coleman attempts a shot in the first half of the Yellow Jackets' game against Virginia Tech Feb. 23, 2022. (Danny Karnik/Georgia Tech Athletics)

Georgia Tech’s Wednesday night game against Virginia Tech had all the components of so many of the team’s losses this season.

The Jackets played well enough to win at points, but then fell behind with a scoring lapse before a late rally closed the gap in the final minutes. And, finally, the opponent secured the game late.

This time, it was a 62-58 loss to the Hokies at McCamish Pavilion. The Jackets led by eight late in the first half, relinquished their grip on the game by scoring one basket in a second-half stretch of five-plus minutes, fell behind by 13 before closing the gap to three points in the final two minutes before finally falling.

“Just kind of the same old story with us this year,” coach Josh Pastner said with a rueful laugh. “Unfortunately, our defense does what it does. The offense reared its head in terms of, we just weren’t able to get over the hump to score enough. Kind of went in that drought again that didn’t allow us to get the win.”

With the loss, Georgia Tech (11-17 overall, 4-13 ACC) remained in last place in the conference, tied with N.C. State. The defending ACC champions have shown signs of improvement as the season has gone on, but nonetheless have lost five of their past six games and seven of their past nine.

Even of those seven losses, the pattern repeated Wednesday fit for many of them. The Jackets trailed Miami by 19 midway through the second half and closed to eight with about five minutes left before faltering. In a second game against the Hurricanes, they led by 14 in the first half and held a four-point lead midway through the second before going scoreless for nearly five minutes en route to defeat. Tech fell behind by 17 at Virginia in the first half and closed the gap to two points in the second half but could never catch the Cavaliers. On Monday, the Jackets took Syracuse to overtime and were able to get three shots for guard Michael Devoe in their final possession, but he was unable to make any and they lost by one.

“I could go on and on,” Pastner said after enumerating other like defeats. “We haven’t been able to score. Thank goodness our defense has given us our chances, but we haven’t been able to score enough to get over the hump.”

“I feel like we’re always like a possession away from getting a ‘W,’” guard Kyle Sturdivant said. “One or two big plays here and there. So it’s definitely been tough.”

Virginia Tech (17-11, 9-8) became the third team to sweep the Jackets, following Miami and North Carolina, as the Hokies cling to faint NCAA Tournament hopes.

The Jackets followed a highly efficient first half – 53.9% shooting from the field, four turnovers in 29 possessions – with a clunker after halftime – 34.6% shooting, seven turnovers in 33 possessions.

Georgia Tech had to play the final 8:32 without center Rodney Howard, who was giving another solid performance (eight points, four rebounds) before being disqualified. The Hokies led 41-40 when Pastner took him out at the 12:47 mark when he drew his fourth foul, then rushed him back in with 10:06 remaining when the Hokies pushed the lead to 46-41 thanks to a tap-out rebound by Hokies forward Keve Aluma that led to a second-chance 3-pointer.

Howard lasted to the 8:32 mark before he fouled out as he was unable to stay in front of Hokies guard Darius Maddox on a switch. Without Howard to provide low-post scoring or help rebound, Virginia Tech pushed the lead to 59-46 with 5:03 remaining before the Jackets made a last-ditch rally.

Because of his foul trouble, Howard, who had scored in double figures in the past four games but was limited to eight points Wednesday, played only 19 minutes after playing at least 30 in the previous four games.

“I think Rodney’s been playing his best basketball over the past two to three games, so losing him was big,” Sturdivant said. “I don’t really question the referees, (but) there were some questionable fouls in my opinion, so it was tough.”

It didn’t help matters that Georgia Tech was playing its third game in three different cities in five days. Virginia Tech had last played Saturday. Further, the Jackets were without guard Deivon Smith (out with a concussion) for the second game in a row, meaning a higher load for Sturdivant. He was on the floor for 32 minutes against Syracuse and 33 Wednesday. Devoe had 44 minutes against Syracuse and 33 against the Hokies. Smith is not expected to play Saturday at Notre Dame.

“For me personally, it was a little bit (difficult) because (Smith) usually gives me a good boost off the bench so I can come back and try to settle us in,” Sturdivant said. “But we work out pretty hard. We’re in very good shape so I try not to put the blame game on anything. We’ve just got to get it done.

The Jackets were led by Devoe’s 18 points on 8-for-14 shooting. Devoe again was frustrated by what he perceived as uneven officiating. He was hit with a technical at the 15:15 mark in the second half for protesting a call on him on the defensive end.

“I don’t even have my voice, so I didn’t even say anything,” Devoe said through a rasp. “I guess my body language.”

“Michael had felt the same call was not called on the other end,” Pastner said.

For the second game in a row, freshman guard Jalon Moore played extended minutes after scarcely playing through most of the season. After playing a career-high 15 minutes in the Jackets’ overtime loss at Syracuse on Monday, Moore played 16 minutes off the bench on Wednesday.

Moore, whom Pastner has occasionally mentioned this season as someone he believed will be a good player even as he was not getting playing time, looked confident and was active. He finished with four points, two rebounds, two blocks and a turnover.

“He’s going to be a good player for us,” Pastner said of Moore.