In its biggest test of the young season and in front of a charged home crowd, Georgia Tech profited from a superior individual performance from guard Michael Devoe, but fell short to No. 23 Wisconsin 70-66 in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge at McCamish Pavilion Wednesday night.

Coming back from a week in which he was subdued with the flu, Devoe scored 33 points on 11-for-20 shooting from the field, continuing the scoring tear that has made him the ACC’s leading scorer. It was his second 30-point game of the season. Devoe was at his best when he hit four 3-pointers in the final 10:53 of the first half, using a stepback dribble to create space and squeeze off his shot.

“He’s a handful,” Wisconsin coach Greg Gard said. “You see how he gets shots. You can defend him perfectly and he still can knock down a shot. He’s a really good player.”

Jackets face a tough defense

However, the Jackets had difficulty coming up with additional scoring against Wisconsin’s stringent defense. The rest of the Jackets shot 11-for-33 from the field, with center Rodney Howard and guard Deivon Smith leading the rest of the team with nine points each. The Jackets shot 41.5% from the field (22-for-53) and managed only seven assists, a season low.

Wisconsin, which came into the game in the top 10 nationally in defensive efficiency (KenPom), was effective in its man-to-man defense of preventing the Jackets from scoring on their backdoor cuts and also in transition, limiting Tech’s easy scores. The Jackets assisted on only seven of their 22 baskets, a season low.

Even still, Tech rallied from a 53-43 deficit with 11:40 remaining, tying the game at 61 with 5:27 left. But Wisconsin’s defensive effort prevailed from there. The Jackets missed their next eight shots, scoring only on three free throws and a basket by Howard in the final seconds with the game out of reach.

File photo of Georgia Tech head coach Josh Pastner from a game during the 2021-22 college basketball season. (file photo)

Credit: AP file photo

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Credit: AP file photo

The final minute

Inside the final minute, Tech had the ball with 37.8 seconds left with 23 seconds left on the shot clock, down 66-64. The Jackets worked the ball to Devoe beyond the top of the key. He used a screen from Howard to get an angle at the basket, but, cut off by Wisconsin forward Steven Crowl, dribbled along the baseline and passed out to Jordan Usher on the right wing. After a pump fake and dribble, Usher took a 3-pointer with about 25 seconds remaining on the game clock and 10 seconds left on the shot clock. A 28.5% shooter from 3-point range, Usher was off the mark and Tech had to foul when Wisconsin’s Tyler Wahl rebounded. He made both free throws with 18.2 seconds left for a four-point lead.

“As I told him in the locker room, he’ll get another opportunity at that same position later in the year and he’s going to stick it,” Pastner said of Usher. “And sometimes the ball goes your way, sometimes it doesn’t, and that one, unfortunately, the ball fell a little short.”

Pastner had few complaints after the game. The Jackets turned the ball over 10 times, tying their season low. Forward Khalid Moore (eight points), guard Kyle Sturdivant (four assists) and Smith (career-high 11 rebounds) all contributed significantly.

Tech falls to 5-2

Tech fell to 5-2 and saw its five-game winning streak come to an end. Wisconsin (6-1) dropped the Jackets’ record in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge to 9-12 and stopped Tech’s two-game win streak in the event. Pastner had his entire rotation at his disposal (aside from guard Bubba Parham, who continues to recover from a torn meniscus in his knee) after a flu bug had waylaid his team and kept several players out of practices and the two games last week.

“The flu stuff and all that type of stuff, it was here, we had it, but we’ve got to get through that and just play,” said Devoe, who sat out of the team’s win over Charleston Southern Nov. 20.

Wisconsin standout

Wisconsin guard Brad Davison was nearly Devoe’s equal, scoring 27 points on 9-for-16 shooting, including 5-for-9 from 3-point range.

He was particularly effective midway through the second half when he scored nine points on four consecutive Wisconsin possessions, hitting jumpers all while being closely guarded. The last jumper gave the Badgers their largest lead of the game at 53-43.

“We had good ball pressure on some things,” Pastner said. ‘He just hit some tough shots, made some big-time plays.”

The game was played before an announced crowd of 6,302, which included more than 2,100 Tech students. Their cheering, including serenades of Wisconsin players who had shot airballs, provided the most pronounced home-court advantage of the season, support that the Jackets hadn’t enjoyed in such volume since the end of the 2019-20 season, as last season’s games were played before limited attendance.

“Man, I really wanted to win so badly for all the fans, but especially for the students, because they did such a great job with such energy,” Pastner said.