Georgia Tech down to last two shots at ACC road win

Georgia Tech head coach Josh Pastner calls out to his team as it faces Pittsburgh Tuesday, Feb. 21, 2023. (AP Photo/Matt Freed)

Credit: AP Photo/Matt Freed

Credit: AP Photo/Matt Freed

Georgia Tech head coach Josh Pastner calls out to his team as it faces Pittsburgh Tuesday, Feb. 21, 2023. (AP Photo/Matt Freed)

After stopping its nine-game losing streak, Georgia Tech has assembled a modest list of accomplishments. First, the Yellow Jackets have won three of their past five ACC games, defeating Notre Dame, Virginia Tech and Louisville.

Second, the offense has revived. Tech is shooting 45.1% from the field over the past five league games after shooting 39% in the first 13. The team’s assist/turnover ratio has improved from 1.0 in the first 13 games to 1.6 in the most recent five games.

“They’re just more cohesive,” Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said Monday on the ACC coaches teleconference. “They’re better offensively. I think their defense has gotten better.”

The Jackets will play at Syracuse Tuesday in what could be their final game against Boeheim, whose return for the 2023-24 season is not certain. Boeheim, in his 47th season coaching the Orange, told ESPN earlier in February that he was “probably” going to return.

For Tech (12-17, 4-14 ACC), Tuesday’s game holds more significance than that. Going into the final week of the regular season, the Jackets have yet to win a road game in the ACC. Tech is 0-8 in league road games and has lost 11 in a row going back to last season, a streak that started with an overtime loss to the Orange in the building now called the JMA Wireless Dome. The Jackets did win one non-conference road game, at Georgia State in November. But the last time that Tech failed to win a conference road game was the 2008-09 season.

“I just think it’s important for us to keep getting better,” coach Josh Pastner said in an interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “We’ve been close on these last few games on the road, we need to get over the hump.”

Tech’s three wins in its past five ACC games have been earned at McCamish Pavilion at the expense of Notre Dame, Virginia Tech and Louisville, three teams that are with the Jackets among the bottom four teams in the ACC standings. Defeating Syracuse and/or Boston College (the Jackets’ opponent Saturday) would add additional meaning to the Jackets’ end-of-season turnaround and bolster the case for Pastner’s continuing as the Tech coach.

“I really thought it embodied our young men, even in the culture of our program, for our guys to be able to fight off the ropes, to play its best basketball, not have any give-in and keep fighting and getting themselves off the ropes,” Pastner said in the ACC teleconference Monday.

Beating Syracuse (16-13, 9-9) or Boston College (14-15, 8-10) probably wouldn’t rattle the foundations of college basketball, but it would be more significant than beating Notre Dame, Virginia Tech or Louisville at home. The Jackets have come close to stealing road wins in their past three games but haven’t been able to finish.

Tech led N.C. State by three at the four-minute mark but surrendered a 14-3 run to end the game. Against Wake Forest, the Jackets led by five with two minutes left and three with one minute left but couldn’t hold the lead in a game in which a couple questionable late non-calls went against the Jackets. Against a Pitt team that is in first place in the ACC, the Jackets went toe-to-toe with the Panthers but faltered in the final two minutes.

The Jackets will likely have to face the Orange without guard Deivon Smith, whom Pastner said was doubtful to play because of an ankle injury. Guard Tristan Maxwell’s availability had also yet to be determined as he has been under the weather, Pastner said. It could be the third consecutive game in which the Jackets rely on a six-man rotation.

By the standings through the weekend’s games, Tech was positioned to play its first game in next week’s ACC Tournament against Virginia Tech in a first-round game in a meeting of the Nos. 12 and 13 seeds. The winner of that game plays the No. 5 seed, which was Duke. Georgia Tech, which is in 13th place in the league going into Tuesday’s game, can do no better than 12th.