SOUTH BEND, Ind. – In an arena where defeat has been its constant companion, Georgia Tech nearly seized a long-awaited victory. But, ahead by seven points with 2 ½ minutes to play in regulation, the Yellow Jackets were caught and passed, losing 73-72 in overtime to Notre Dame Tuesday night at Purcell Pavilion.
The Fighting Irish, who had lost their first five ACC games of the season, gave the Jackets their annual South Bend defeat in front of a small crowd still awaiting the return of students for the spring semester. The Jackets have now lost all nine games that they have played here since the Fighting Irish joined the ACC before the 2013-14 season.
Playing without forward Jalon Moore (thigh contusion), Tech coach Josh Pastner started post players Rodney Howard and Ja’von Franklin together for the first time this season. The Jackets received difference-making performances from guards Kyle Sturdivant (career-high 18 points, all after halftime) and Deivon Smith (16 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists) and Franklin (12 points, 12 rebounds, four blocks and three assists in playing all but three seconds of the game). But in a game where literally one play could have made the difference and delivered the Jackets a much-needed win, it wasn’t enough.
“This one was just very frustrating, because I know we’re way better (than Notre Dame),” Franklin said. “That’s a good team over there; don’t get me wrong. I just felt like we didn’t put the game away when we were up by seven.”
Tech (8-8, 1-5 ACC) has started 1-5 in league play for the second year in a row. After starting the ACC schedule against four of the strongest teams in the conference – North Carolina, Clemson, Virginia and Miami – Tech appeared to have a softer two-game stretch following. But the Jackets took road losses to Florida State (now 5-11) on Saturday and Notre Dame (9-8, 1-5) Tuesday. The Jackets will return home to play Pittsburgh, picked to finish 14th in the ACC but one of the league’s surprise teams thus far, on Saturday.
“That’s life in the ACC,” Pastner said. “Tough loss.”
As ever, the Jackets showed fight, rallying after falling behind 41-32 with 16:06 left in the second half behind the trio of Sturdivant, Smith and Franklin. Sturdivant was particularly valuable. A part-time starter, Sturdivant had played a total of 13 minutes and failed to score in Tech’s previous two games (he said Tuesday that he sustained a head injury before the FSU game) and then only three seconds of the first half Tuesday.
Subbed into the game with 14:23 left in the second half, he went on a tear, scoring 11 points in regulation and another seven in overtime.
“I wanted to give my team the best shot to win,” Sturdivant said. “That’s all I was trying to do.”
He soared to the rim for an alley-oop from Smith with 3:45 left in regulation to give Tech a 63-56 lead. It was the first of two seven-point leads the Jackets took in the final four minutes, the second at 65-58 with 2:31 to play on a pair of free throws by guard Lance Terry.
Notre Dame 73, Georgia Tech 72
However, the Jackets failed to score again in regulation and Notre Dame tied the game with a 7-0 run to send the game to overtime. On its last possession of regulation, Tech was called for a shot-clock violation when the best that the Jackets could do was a long, challenged 3-pointer by guard Miles Kelly that was well off the mark.
“The seven-point swing, that’s what killed us right there,” Franklin said. “That was the turning point of the game, I would say.”
In overtime, the game was decided in the final seconds. Tech trailed 73-72 with 23 seconds left after two free throws by Nate Laszewski. Sturdivant, who scored all seven of Tech’s overtime points, missed on a 3-point try from the corner and the ball went out of bounds with 3.7 seconds left. The Jackets were awarded possession after video review, but a poorly executed inbounds play resulted in Franklin firing off an errant jumper from behind the free-throw line when the plan was for him to take the inbounds pass close to the basket and attack.
With athletic director J Batt and executive deputy AD Jon Palumbo in attendance, Pastner endured a most frustrating defeat. Typically calm with officials on the court, Pastner stayed on the court at the start of halftime to vehemently protest an offensive foul against Kelly at the end of the first half that opened the door for Notre Dame guard J.J. Starling to hit a buzzer-beating 3-pointer, a play that Pastner also challenged on the grounds that he thought Starling should have been called for carrying the ball.
“My whole thing with the guys is we’ve got to be real positive, upbeat, but, yeah, there’s no question internally it will eat at my stomach for a long time,” Pastner said.
While Sturdivant, Smith and Franklin led the way, they did not have much support. Guards Deebo Coleman and Terry combined for 10 points in a combined 62 minutes of play, coming up empty on 10 attempts from 3-point range. The Jackets were also not able to exploit Notre Dame’s interior defense, which had appeared to be vulnerable. Even with an extra five minutes, Tech scored 32 points in the paint, the fewest Notre Dame has allowed in six ACC games.
“We wanted to go in the paint, and we had some drive opportunities, but those guys had some wide-open 3′s,” Pastner said. “You can’t tell them not to shoot those open 3′s.”
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