Georgia Tech defeats Division II Florida Tech with room to spare

Georgia Tech forward goes up for a dunk in the Yellow Jackets' win over Florida Tech on Feb. 18, 2023 at McCamish Pavilion. (Danny Karnik/Georgia Tech Athletics)

Credit: Danny Karnik

Credit: Danny Karnik

Georgia Tech forward goes up for a dunk in the Yellow Jackets' win over Florida Tech on Feb. 18, 2023 at McCamish Pavilion. (Danny Karnik/Georgia Tech Athletics)

Georgia Tech accomplished what would figure to be its two primary objectives in its Saturday home game against Division II Florida Tech. The Yellow Jackets won the game (by a 79-56 score) and reached the end of it without sustaining any injuries.

Coach Josh Pastner, who has bucked convention in scheduling games during the open date in Tech’s ACC schedule to keep the team in a rhythm, saw his team find its pace in the second half. Rebounding with purpose and running the floor in transition, the Jackets outscored Florida Tech 42-28 in the game’s final 20 minutes, making 18 baskets on 36 tries and assisting on 10 of them.

“We got better as we went on,” Pastner said. “I think we were a little lethargic to start. That just happens at times.”

Through much of the first half, the Jackets and Panthers traded the lead, and Florida Tech took a 25-24 lead on a layup by guard Sesan Russell with 6:50 left in the half. That did not befit an ACC team with every conceivable advantage in talent and resources over its Division II opponent.

But Georgia Tech began extending its zone, which created stops and scoring chances for the Jackets. A 13-0 run gave the Jackets a 37-25 lead inside the final minute of the half on a backdoor reverse layup by forward Jalon Moore from forward Ja’von Franklin.

Guard Lance Terry, whom Pastner was imploring to wake up early in the game, led the Jackets with 19 points on 7-for-15 shooting. Terry has hit double figures in scoring in four of Tech’s past five games since returning from a hamstring injury.

Franklin went for his third double-double in as many games, with 13 points and 14 rebounds, along with four assists and two blocks. Tech (11-16), which won for the third time in the past four games, will return to ACC play Tuesday at Pittsburgh. The Jackets had lost nine in a row before the past four games.

“We’re going to definitely finish the season strong and make a run in the ACC tourney,” Moore said.

Tuesday’s game against the Panthers will be a firm test of the Jackets’ improvement. Before its Saturday evening game at Virginia Tech, Pitt was a half-game out of first place.

“I just think we’ve gotten better,” Pastner said.

Pastner might have hoped for more time for his non-rotational players. Because the Jackets were not able to open the lead past 20 points until the 4:06 mark of the second half, four of the Jackets starters were on the floor for 30-plus minutes. Terry, who played the full 40 minutes in the team’s home win over Virginia Tech on Wednesday, labored another 34 on Saturday.

In Georgia Tech’s first four games against Division II competition in his tenure, Pastner was able to spread playing time far more liberally. Nine players were on the floor for at least 10 minutes in two of the games and 10 enjoyed double-digit minutes in the other two. On Saturday, it was six. Pastner looked at it with his ever-sunny attitude.

“If we weren’t playing (Saturday), we would have practiced,” Pastner said. “So to me, this was good. Those guys got really good minutes. We’ve kind of shortened our rotation, and those guys got really good minutes for cardio and conditioning.”

Tech was able to get little-used backups and walk-ons on the floor for the final 1:31. The day’s loudest cheers went to freshman forward Freds Pauls Bagatskis for a long jump shot and walk-on guard Jermontae Hill for a fast-break dunk in the final seconds, the first basket and points of the redshirt freshman’s career.

“It was great seeing those guys go in,” Terry said. “Whenever they do go in, all of us are standing up cheering for them.”

Florida Tech (16-11) was led by Russell, who scored 17 points with five assists. Guard Sean Houpt, a transfer from Bradley, scored 10.