Georgia Tech overwhelms Miami for first ACC road win

Georgia Tech brought thunder. Shorthanded Miami brought blunder.

Playing near their peak against a highly vulnerable opponent, the Yellow Jackets hammered the Hurricanes 87-60 on Saturday afternoon in Coral Gables, Fla. Tech broke the school record for the largest margin of victory in an ACC road game, dropping a 26-point win at Wake Forest in 2011 into second place.

“I was really proud of our guys defensively,” coach Josh Pastner said. “We played the right way on both sides of the ball. It was a clean game, a pretty complete game. When you’re on the road in the ACC, that’s just hard to do.”

While Tech had largely stuck with its man-to-man defense recently, the Jackets returned to their trademark 1-3-1 zone defense against Miami. Without point guards Chris Lykes (a preseason first-team All-ACC pick who has played in only two games this season because of an ankle injury) and Harlond Beverly (out with a back injury), the Hurricanes looked rudderless against the Jackets defense. Coach Jim Larrañaga’s team, in fact, had only six scholarship players available because of injury, a number that dropped to five when leading scorer Isaiah Wong left the game shortly before halftime with an ankle injury.

In its first 15 possessions, Miami turned the ball over eight times as the Jackets took leads of 12-0 and 26-7. Six of the turnovers were by steals as the Jackets, second in the ACC in steals and forced turnovers, were merciless with pressure and quickness.

“We came out very lackadaisical (Saturday), and Georgia Tech threw a knockout punch in the first half,” Miami forward Deng Gak said.

At the Watsco Center, Tech (11-8, 7-6 ACC) picked up its first ACC road win after five consecutive road defeats. Miami (7-13, 3-12) lost its seventh game of the past eight to continue its hard-luck season.

Forward Moses Wright credited guard/forward Jordan Usher for getting the Jackets in the frame of mind to ambush the Hurricanes. Wright said that Usher was “bringing energy from the beginning, him just talking, just locking us in on defense. It really started with him.”

At the same time, guard Michael Devoe was in an otherworldly state, dropping 3-pointers in Tech’s first two possessions and going 4-for-4 on 3-point attempts in the first eight minutes. He finished with a season-high 29 points while shooting 7-for-11 from 3-point range, a career-high for 3-pointers.

“They went zone early, so I was like, Mike is about to shoot them out of the zone,” Wright said.

“I was getting great looks, great opportunities to shoot it,” Devoe said. “Once I saw that first one go in, it just kept going from there.”

Credit: ACC

Tech broke the school record for the largest margin of victory in an ACC road game, an 87-60 win over the Hurricanes in Coral Gables, Fla.

Devoe was wearing hair newly styled by Gabriela Moore, the sister of forward Khalid Moore, who also gave her brother a fresh tonsorial look. Usher, who kicked in five rebounds, four assists and two steals, also took the court in a new hairdo.

“I think for us, we’ve got to get our hair done to have a really good game,” Devoe said.

The coiffed Jackets shot 19-for-30 (63.3%) from the field in the first half and 36-for-63 (57.1%) for the game, a hair below their season high. Their 36 baskets and 22 assists were both season highs in ACC play.

“Obviously, we hit some shots, but I just thought our defense really created opportunities to get us some fast breaks,” Pastner said.

Tech finished the half leading 48-18, which was the most points the Jackets have scored in a half in ACC play this season and also the fewest they have allowed in a half all season.

Such was the Jackets’ control of the game that Usher went for style points on a fast-break dunk in the first half, posing in mid-air with his left hand behind his head while slamming the ball with his right and then briefly flexing as he returned back upcourt. Had it been in the second half, Wright said, “it would have been a windmill (dunk) or he would have tried to go between his legs or something crazy.”

There was little chance of a comeback. Mindful of a Hurricanes’ rally last season in which they erased a 20-point second-half deficit to take the lead before Tech recovered to win, not to mention a habit of giving up halftime leads in general, the Jackets kept up the pressure after halftime. The lead expanded to as many as 36 points.

“We just were focused on keeping the lead and maintaining the same energy that we had first half and having it in the second half,” Wright said.

In the game, Wright reached the 1,000-point mark for his career, becoming the 49th Tech player to reach that mark. He’s the third 1,000-point scorer on the team, joining Jose Alvarado, Devoe and Bubba Parham (who reached 1,000 points in his sophomore season at VMI before transferring to Tech). Wright also is now part of a smaller fraternity of Jackets players with 1,000 points and 500 rebounds, a 21-player group that includes all-time Tech greats such as Rich Yunkus, Matt Harpring, Dennis Scott and Brian Oliver, who was at the Watsco Center calling the game for television.

“I didn’t really care about (1,000 points),” said Wright, who had 14 points and 12 rebounds for his 11th career double-double. “Just getting that 500 rebounds excited me.”

Pastner was able to get all of his available scholarship players in the game. Pastner said that Usher even urged him to take him out of the game so that little-used David Didenko could get some playing time.

“As a basketball player, you look forward to these types of games when you’re shooting like that and guys are having fun and everybody gets to play,” Devoe said. “It’s a huge thing for us.”

Tech was playing its first game since defeating Pittsburgh on Sunday after its Wednesday game against Boston College was postponed because of COVID-19 issues within the Eagles team.

The win kept alive the Jackets’ NCAA tournament hopes and leads Tech into a critical road matchup at No. 18 Virginia Tech on Tuesday night. The Hokies, however, have had their past two games – Tuesday against North Carolina and Saturday against Florida State – postponed because of COVID-19 issues within their team.

From a tournament résumé perspective, it’s a particularly important game for Georgia Tech, as it’s the only remaining regular-season game for the Jackets against a team projected to be in the NCAA field. Pastner said the expectation is that the game will be played.