“It feels really good — first time beating Duke since I’ve been here,” said Wright, author of another superior performance with 29 points and 14 rebounds.
Wright had called out the Blue Devils on Saturday, asserting his belief that the Jackets were the better team and would claim victory Tuesday. He did so, he said, in hopes of stirring up a dogfight with the Blue Devils, wanting only to beat Duke at its best. In so doing, he incurred the wrath of Duke fans on Twitter. He didn’t mind. He got what he wanted – a physical, hard-fought game against coach Mike Krzyzewski’s band of NBA-bound stars.
“I love Duke, I love coach K,” Wright said. “They’re a great program and everything. I’m just glad we came out on top. You couldn’t ask for more. Overtime win on senior night, this is all you could ask for.”
It was perhaps not the way Alvarado would have dreamed up the end of the Duke streak. Hobbled with a hamstring injury that kept him out of practice for the past week, Alvarado was limited to 10 points on 3-for-10 shooting and was not his typically frenetic self.
Further, with the game tied at 64, he nearly cost the Jackets by chucking up a long-range 3 at the end of regulation that airballed and gave Duke the ball with 6.1 seconds left and a chance at leaving Tech with another gut-punch defeat.
“I can say now – what type of senior does that, right?” Alvarado said, ever accountable. “I’m going to have to learn from that and never do that again.”
But, with the precious win in his team’s account, he reflected on his growth over his four seasons — “this program took me in when I was a little rugrat just running around, just trying to find myself” — and his affection for those who’ve made the journey with him.
“This is my family forever,” he said. “I love this place with all my heart. And, you know, like I said, I don’t know what the future holds for me, but, man, I just can’t believe this is my last home game.”
After 11 years and 14-straight losses, the Yellow Jackets tasted victory at the Blue Devils’ expense, squeezing out an 81-77 overtime win at McCamish Pavilion.
Pastner said Alvarado’s hamstring injury was significant enough that he considered sitting him against Duke and the Syracuse game Saturday. The player around whom Pastner has built around because of his fire and relentless competitiveness wasn’t having it.
“He said, ‘Coach, you literally will have to cut my hamstring off for me not to play these games,’” said Pastner, who wisely elected against such a procedure.
In turning the tables on Duke, Tech (14-8 overall, 10-6) won its fifth game in a row. The last time the Jackets won five consecutive ACC games was the 1995-96 season, when they won seven in a row to finish the regular season and finished 13-3, first in the ACC. With its 10th ACC win, the Jackets have now achieved double-digit ACC wins in back-to-back seasons for the first time in school history. It is certainly more attainable now than when coach Bobby Cremins was leading the Jackets through 16-game ACC seasons, but it’s an accomplishment all the same. As it is, Tech has had only two sets of consecutive winning ACC seasons regardless of victory total – 1985-86 and 1988-90.
“I thought our guys stepped up to the plate,” Pastner said. “This was a gritty, gutty, tough, hard-nosed game from tip to the last shot when the buzzer sounded in overtime. We had to just gut it out.”
In the highly rare position of trying to play its way into the NCAA Tournament, Duke (11-10, 9-8) absorbed a costly loss in that pursuit. From 1984 through 2019, Krzyzewski has led the Blue Devils to a mind-blowing 35 NCAA Tournaments in 36 years, the lone exception being when physical exhaustion caused him to take leave of the team after 12 games.
“We’ve been very fortunate, so I don’t know if the basketball gods are evening things up a little bit,” Krzyzewski said.
It continues an enchanting season for Pastner and his team, one that increasingly looks like it will culminate in the NCAA Tournament, an accomplishment not achieved at Tech since 2010.
“Hey — (beating) Duke, North Carolina and Kentucky in the same year,” said Pastner, in fully giddy mode. “You know how hard that is? That’s no easy now. Hey, how about double-digit wins in back-to-back years in ACC play? Never been done at Georgia Tech. That’s not easy. Make sure you tweet that out, guys.”
Despite — or perhaps because of — Tech’s high degree of anticipation for Duke’s arrival, it nearly didn’t happen. In the first half, the Jackets did not have the offensive efficiency and defensive quickness and pressure that they’ve relied on this season. Players misread each other and threw balls away. Possessions repeatedly extended into the final seconds off the shot clock resulting in challenged and hurried attempts. Duke took extra care of the ball, turning it over only three times in the first half.
“We came in at halftime, coach (Anthony) Wilkins said it best,” Wright said. “He was basically like, We all want this win, but it’s just everybody’s like really anxious is not coming and the energy’s not matching each other.”
Tech started pulling together after falling behind 48-44 near the 13-minute mark. Wright scored on a putback dunk of a miss by guard Michael Devoe. On Duke’s next possession, Alvarado stole an inbounds pass and turned it into a layup to tie the game at 48. From there, the Jackets found their rhythm.
Parham made a tough play by grabbing the ball as Duke guard Jeremy Roach drove on him to force a held ball and return possession to Tech. At the other end, Wright won a loose ball from Hurt after a missed shot by Alvarado and dunked. He dunked again when Parham found him with a wraparound bounce pass for a 56-52 lead. Wright fought for another offensive rebound and scored on a putback to make it 58-52 advantage.
Georgia Tech forward Moses Wright (5) hangs on the basket after a dunk in the second half against Duke Tuesday, March 2, 2021, at McCamish Pavilion in Atlanta. Tech won 81-77 in overtime. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)
Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC
Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC
Another Wright dunk, this one in transition on pass from Devoe as he ran the floor after a Duke miss, lifted the lead to 62-54 with 5:23 left in regulation, Tech’s largest lead.
Three days after recording just the second 30-point, 15-rebound game in school history in the win over Syracuse, Wright nearly matched it with 29 points and 14 rebounds.
“Moses Wright’s as good as any player in the country right now,” Pastner said. “I mean, there’s no denying that.”
Said Krzyzewski, “Wright is really an outstanding player.”
However, ahead 64-56 at the four-minute mark, the Jackets tightened up and Duke roared back, scoring the next eight points to tie it with 1:43 left. On the next possession, Tech missed three shots, including two open 3-pointers. Tech fans conditioned to disaster likely anticipated Duke turning hopes to dust. But the Blue Devils came up empty on their final two possessions, including a 3-point try by Jaemyn Brakefield at the buzzer, to send the game to overtime.
Said Pastner, “I had a peace about it.”
In overtime, Tech took control again, with Wright, Alvarado and Jordan Usher making plays to eventually lift the Jackets to a 77-70 lead with 28 seconds left. Yet, again, Duke fired back with a pair of 3-pointers, one by Norcross High grad Jordan Goldwire, to shave the lead to 79-76 with 10.1 seconds left. After a turnover on the inbounds pass, Duke’s D.J. Stewart had a 3 for a tie but missed.
Even then, Duke still had a chance, as Patrick Tape was fouled on the rebound and went to the line with 2.6 seconds left with Tech ahead 79-76. He made the first and then purposely missed the second, but because his shot didn’t draw iron, Tech was awarded possession.
After inbounding successfully, guard Michael Devoe was fouled and hit two free throws with 1.8 seconds left for the final 81-77 margin.
And, finally, a team and its fans could celebrate a win over a nemesis and another step closer to the NCAA tournament.
“Incredible win for Georgia Tech,” Pastner said.