Georgia Tech pulls upset of ACC-leading Florida State

Georgia Tech guard Jordan Usher (4) reacts after making a three-pointer during the ACC college basketball game between the Florida State Seminoles and the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets on January 26th, 2022 at Hank McCamish Pavilion in Atlanta, GA. (Photo by Rich von Biberstein/Icon Sportswire) (Icon Sportswire via AP Images)

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

Georgia Tech guard Jordan Usher (4) reacts after making a three-pointer during the ACC college basketball game between the Florida State Seminoles and the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets on January 26th, 2022 at Hank McCamish Pavilion in Atlanta, GA. (Photo by Rich von Biberstein/Icon Sportswire) (Icon Sportswire via AP Images)

Defending with energy and riding the support from a riled-up crowd, Georgia Tech claimed its biggest win of the season Wednesday night.

Desperate for a win but also up against a team that started the night tied for first place in the ACC, the Yellow Jackets won key loose balls, drained 10 3-pointers and didn’t buckle where they had often this season to produce a 75-61 win over Florida State in McCamish Pavilion.

“When the game got down to four maybe in the past, earlier in the season, we might have folded up a little bit, kind of cowered back,” said Tech forward Jordan Usher, who was an energetic playmaker for the Jackets. “But we showed our chest and just kept pushing. I feel like this could be a turning point for our team.”

After dropping nine of its past 11 games against Division I competition, Tech (9-10 overall, 2-6 ACC) played with the defensive ferocity and playmaking that called to mind its ACC championship win over the same Seminoles last March in Greensboro, N.C.

With quick hands and effort-filled execution of its 1-3-1 zone defense, the Jackets forced 17 turnovers on Florida State’s 65 possessions, 13 of them steals. In the title-game win in March, the Seminoles (13-6, 6-3) lost with 25 turnovers, 15 by steal.

Georgia Tech guard Michael Devoe dribbles against Florida State forward John Butler in the Yellow Jackets' 75-61 win over the Seminoles Jan. 26, 2022 at McCamish Pavilion. (Danny Karnik/Georgia Tech Athletics)

Credit: Danny Karnik

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Credit: Danny Karnik

“When our zone is working like that, man, come on, that gets me excited,” Usher said. “That’s when it doesn’t have to be perfect. We’re flying around with energy, putting our hands up here, getting a tip here. You don’t have to have perfect scheme and strategy as long as your energized coming down getting rebounds, contesting stuff. That’s Georgia Tech defense. That’s Georgia Tech basketball.”

In arguably their best performance of the season, the Jackets (9-10 overall, 2-6 ACC) lent credence to the notion that they are a better team than their record showed, and coach Josh Pastner’s contention that his team, inexperienced at some spots, has been improving. They did have another scoring drought of more than four minutes, but in this case limited Florida State to five points when they went 4:03 early in the second half without a score.

“When we’re playing defense to where we played it (Wednesday) and we’re playing hard and we’re playing for one another, we’re a really good team,” guard Kyle Sturdivant said.

Usher had five of Tech’s 13 steals, a career high, to go along with a game-high 19 points, eight rebounds, five assists and no turnovers in 38 minutes of play. Perhaps two plays of his stood out. One was a first-half steal in which he deflected a pass near the sideline, chased it down as he went out of bounds and then threw a behind-the-back pass downcourt that guard Michael Devoe ran down to maintain possession.

With a little more than two minutes remaining and the Jackets holding on to a 68-60 lead, guard Kyle Sturdivant drove the lane, drawing traffic and then wrapped a pass around the defense along the baseline to Usher outside the 3-point arc in front of the Tech bench. Without hesitating, he launched and hit a 3 for a 71-60 lead that advanced the Jackets to victory.

“He usually says, ‘Knockdown’ when he throws it, but he didn’t say it that time,” Usher said. “He already knew I knew what to do with it. I love it. Right in front of the bench. That’s energy, too. You couldn’t have drawn it up any better.”

Next for Tech: Saturday, vs. Miami at noon at McCamish Pavilion

After breaking a 3-point shooting slump in its 103-53 win over Division II Clayton State on Sunday, the Jackets dropped 10 3-pointers in a season-high 27 tries. They hit eight of them in the first half, when they were near-perfect after a rocky start. Trailing 7-0 less than two minutes in, Tech recovered and took the lead behind the 3-point marksmanship of Devoe and Deebo Coleman and Usher, taking a 44-33 lead into halftime.

The Jackets were able to hold off the Seminoles the final 20 minutes. Florida State did cut the deficit to single digits for most of the second half, but never got closer than four. Hustle plays and friendly bounces proliferated. When the lead was four points, at 57-53, Devoe missed a 3-pointer, and center Rodney Howard won the loose ball and passed out of a triple team to forward Khalid Moore, who was fouled at the basket and then made his two free throws, part of a 7-for-10 line for the night. Pastner called Moore and Howard the MVP’s for their non-scoring plays.

“I said (to Howard), ‘I want you to stick out like a sore thumb in a good way, in the way that you’re just playing so hard that everybody’s just seeing the activity that you’re doing, and that’s what he did (Wednesday),” Pastner said.

Sturdivant scored 12 points and added four assists and four rebounds with no turnovers in 30 plays despite bringing up the ball against Florida State’s full-court pressure. The Seminoles, who entered the game leading the ACC in steals (9.5 per game) and forced turnovers (16.1 per game), had five steals and forced nine turnovers.

“To me personally, they’re one of the best defensive teams in the country, not only in the league,” Sturdivant said. “They pressure you at all positions; they make you uncomfortable. it’s either do-or-die time and I’m glad I stepped up and was ready for passes, ready to knock down shots.”

He made the highlight play of the game, with about a minute and a half to play and the Jackets ahead 71-60. Beyond the 3-point arc, Sturdivant drove on 7-foot center John Butler in a quickness mismatch. Sturdivant drove to his right to the elbow and hit the brakes, pulling up with a behind-the-back dribble. Butler wasn’t ready for it and lost his footing before falling to the ground. With the crowd roaring its approval, Sturdivant hit a jump shot that bounced high off the rim and backboard before hitting the rim again before it caromed off the backboard again through the hoop.

“All my teammates know that’s my money shot,” Sturdivant said.

Sturdivant, Usher and Pastner all praised the fans (attendance was announced at 4,697, with a sizeable presence of FSU fans) for their boisterous support.

“Props to the fans,” Usher said. “The fans bring it out of me. I want to say thanks to all the fans, all the alumni, people that were in there screaming and rocking in the gym. I love every time we can get a win in front of you guys and just show you guys some love.”

After a lengthy slide, love was finally returned Wednesday night.