Georgia Tech guard Jose Alvarado is fouled driving to the basket by Pittsburgh forward Abdoul Karim Coulibaly in an NCAA college basketball game on Sunday, Feb 14, 2021, in Atlanta. Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com”
For a moment, it seemed another collapse was imminent. Just as Georgia Tech had stumbled in the second halves of its past two games to allow Virginia and Clemson to overtake the Yellow Jackets and saddle them with gut-punch defeats – as had also happened in losses to Virginia and Duke earlier in the season – it appeared Pittsburgh was positioned to make it three in a row in a five-day stretch.
“I was a little concerned,” coach Josh Pastner said.
However, Tech guard Michael Devoe stepped to the fore, finding the range on a deep 3-pointer with 4:20 left that broke a 55-all tie and started the Jackets’ push to a 71-65 win over the Panthers Sunday afternoon at McCamish Pavilion.
“I thought (Sunday) we needed to learn how to get over that hump and learn how to win, and we did,” Pastner said. “So I thought it was a good positive step for this team.”
Playing on tired legs against an opponent that was fully rested, Tech (10-8 overall, 6-6 ACC) emerged from the fracas with its fragile NCAA tournament hopes still intact after the losses to the Cavaliers and Tigers had swallowed up much of the Jackets’ remaining margin. As in those two games, Tech led at the half on Sunday (31-22) before Pitt (9-7, 5-6) finally chased down the Jackets with a 9-0 run to tie the game at 55 with 4:36 left.
Pastner said he contemplated calling a timeout to settle his team, but decided against it, wanting to conserve his timeouts and also believing in his players’ ability to find their way. On the next possession, Devoe hit his 3-pointer – the junior reached 1,000 career points with the basket – and the Jackets led the rest of the way.
“That really loosened things up,” said Tech forward Khalid Moore, another key contributor Sunday.
“They were kind of daring me to shoot it,” Devoe said of the shot, launched a good four feet behind the 3-point arc, his feet set in the “G” in the “GT” midcourt logo. “I don’t know if they realized I could shoot from that far, so they kind of dared me on that. So, just confident in my shot and I just took it.”
Devoe helped turn away the Panthers’ rally over the closing 4:20 with nine of his 13 points – he was 6-for-6 from the free-throw line – and three of his four rebounds. With Tech ahead 62-59 with 1:35 to play, Devoe peeled off his own man to pluck the ball from Pitt’s Abdoul Karim Coulibaly in the lane. On the next possession, he set up guard Bubba Parham with a perfectly delivered pass for a corner 3-pointer and a 65-59 lead.
The score gave the Jackets much-needed breathing room after the debacles against the Cavaliers and Tigers. Tech was also 10-for-10 from the line in the final four minutes, part of a 21-for-23 performance (91.3%) for the game. It was the Jackets’ most accurate shooting in an ACC game with 20 or more free-throw attempts since a 27-for-28 game (96.4%) against Maryland in January 1996.
The free-throw precision enabled Tech to withstand Pitt’s comeback, which included a bank-shot 3-pointer by Au’Diese Toney with 43.6 seconds left to cut the lead to 67-62, which recalled the off-the-backboard game-winning 3-pointer by Clemson’s Nick Honor on Friday. After Toney’s 3, Pastner said he turned to wife Kerri, sitting in the stands, and yelled “I hate the backboard!”
Pitt didn’t help itself from the line, making eight of 15. The Panthers also lost the ball 18 times, their most in ACC play this season. To Pastner, whose team was second in the ACC going into the game in turnovers forced (15.4 per game), it was evidence of the effort that his team played with less than 48 hours after its disheartening loss at Clemson.
“We were able to dig in,” Pastner said. “That’s not easy.”
Moore delivered a standout performance in his defense of Pitt forward Justin Champagnie, the ACC’s leader in scoring (19.2 points per game) and rebounding (12.0 rebounds per game). Pastner gave Moore just his third start of the season with the express purpose of limiting Champagnie. With Moore sticking close to him to prevent him from getting touches and boxing him out to keep him off the glass, Champagnie finished with 13 points and six rebounds, the latter a season-low.
Moore and Champagnie had faced each other going back to their high-school basketball days in New York.
“Honestly, I’m just trying to contribute in any way that I can,” said Moore, who played a season-high 38 minutes and also scored seven points. “And I know that he’s a big part of their team, so taking him out was definitely a big part to the win.”
Tech played without guard/forward Jordan Usher for the final 8:52 after he injured his ankle on an apparent awkward landing from a rebound. Pastner said it was a “pretty bad sprain” and that Usher would get an x-ray on Monday. Pastner had hopes that Usher would be ready to play against Boston College on Wednesday.
Ken Sugiura is a sports columnist at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Formerly the Georgia Tech beat reporter, Sugiura started at the AJC in 1998 and has covered a variety of beats, mostly within sports.