Georgia Tech hammers Syracuse as Jackets’ late-season surge continues

Georgia Tech guard Lance Terry, right, drives the ball past Syracuse forward Benny Williams during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in Syracuse, N.Y., Tuesday, Feb. 28, 2023. (AP Photo/Adrian Kraus)

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

Georgia Tech guard Lance Terry, right, drives the ball past Syracuse forward Benny Williams during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in Syracuse, N.Y., Tuesday, Feb. 28, 2023. (AP Photo/Adrian Kraus)

A team that had difficulty cracking 60 points in January ended a turnaround February with a stunning road blowout of Syracuse.

Moving the ball with ease in and out of the Syracuse zone and rippling the nets from the perimeter, the Yellow Jackets laid down a 96-76 beating of the Orange Tuesday night. They put on a performance that few road teams have ever managed in the 43 years of competing against Syracuse in the building now known as the JMA Wireless Dome.

“We probably played so well offensively we could have maybe beaten anybody in the country (Tuesday),” said Pastner in an interview by phone with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

The Jackets hit on 52.2% of their shots, including 18-for-40 (45%) of their 3-point shots. The 3-point baskets and attempts both set team records as guard Miles Kelly set a career scoring high with 30 points with 7-for-14 shooting (also a career high) from behind the arc. It’s the second time in the past three games that Kelly has set career standards for points and 3-pointers. Forward Ja’von Franklin continued his strong run of play with a triple-double – 14 points, 15 rebounds and 10 assists. It was the first triple-double by a Tech player since 2011, the fifth in school history and the first by a post player.

“It was surreal,” Pastner said of his team’s play.

The Jackets were so dialed in from the perimeter that and the Orange defense so ineffective that, around the 15-minute mark of the second half, Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim abandoned his trademark 2-3 zone to play man-to-man defense, a switch Pastner said he had never seen the legendary coach make.

“We were all shocked,” Pastner said.

For the Orange, it was their fourth consecutive loss and third in a row giving up at least 91 points.

“We can’t stop anybody,” Boeheim said after the game. “That’s the bottom line.”

With a short bench with guard Deivon Smith out with an ankle injury and guard Tristan Maxwell under the weather, Pastner shortened his rotation even more. His starting five of Franklin and guards Lance Terry, Kyle Sturdivant, Deebo Coleman and Kelly played all but eight minutes of the game.

Terry connected for seven 3-pointers and scored 24 points, his sixth game in double figures in the past eight games after coming back from a hamstring injury.

“It should have been a close game,” Boeheim said. “But when you don’t guard people, you’re not going to be in a close game.”

On the heels of a nine-game losing streak, Tech (13-17, 5-14 ACC) has now won four of its past six ACC games. Tuesday’s win was its first league win away from McCamish Pavilion this season and the first of the past four league wins against a team outside of the bottom five in the ACC. The win gave the Jackets a season split with the Orange, who defeated Tech 80-63 Jan. 21 at McCamish. Tuesday, Tech passed the 63-point mark with 17:35 to play in the second half.

“We have just gotten better, and to validate, to win on the road, is important for us,” Pastner said.

Going back to the 2010-11 season, Syracuse (16-14, 9-10) has allowed more than 96 points in a regulation home game only three times, according to sports-reference.com.

After making 29.7% of its 3-point tries in its first 13 ACC games, Tech has made 41.5% in its past six.

It was this kind of night for the Jackets. With a little under three minutes to play in the first half, Sturdivant felt confident enough to take a shot from the JMA Wireless Dome logo with a hand in his face. The shot banged in off the back of the rim, three of his career-high 20 points.

In the final minute of the first half, the Jackets held a 49-44 lead, not much of a cushion given how efficient the offense had been. With a little under 30 seconds remaining, Kelly found Franklin under the zone for a dunk and and-one free throw. Franklin missed the free throw, but the ball went out of bounds off a Syracuse player, allowing Tech to retain possession.

In the final seconds of the half, Sturdivant’s short jumper was blocked, but Franklin grabbed the ball out of the air and scored on a jumper for a 53-44 halftime lead.

But, beyond fortuitous bounces, the Jackets executed their game plan with precision. Pastner said it was the best he has seen his team play on the offensive end in his seven seasons at Tech, well enough that even as Syracuse was fairly effective with the ball (shooting 48.2% from the field and making 18 of 20 free throws), the Orange were no threat to the Jackets.

Tech opened the second half on an 11-0 run to expand the lead to 64-44. Even before the run ended, Boeheim was compelled to use his final timeout with more than 18 minutes remaining in the game.

After the game, Boeheim was asked what was left for his team to play for. His answer encompassed the team that had just throttled his.

“Georgia Tech’s not going anywhere (in the postseason),” he said. However, “they played really hard, really well (Tuesday) and that’s what you’re supposed to do. You go out there you’re playing for pride.”