Georgia Tech rally falls short against Miami

Georgia Tech head coach Josh Pastner gestures from the sideline during the ACC college basketball game between the Miami Hurricanes and the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets on January 29th, 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 head coach Josh Pastner gestures from the sideline during the ACC college basketball game between the Miami Hurricanes and the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets on January 29th, 2022 at Hank McCamish Pavilion in Atlanta, GA. (Photo by Rich von Biberstein/Icon Sportswire) (Icon Sportswire via AP Images)

Georgia Tech’s anticipated – or at least hoped-for – turnaround did not take form Saturday afternoon. Against the ACC’s first-place team, the Yellow Jackets didn’t shoot well, made mistakes and were subject to officiating of the sort that drew a highly rare outburst from coach Josh Pastner. Under those conditions, Miami was a 73-62 winner at McCamish Pavilion.

“We were good enough defensively to win the game,” Pastner said.

In welcoming the ACC’s first-place team to McCamish, Tech was attempting to build on its upset win Wednesday over Florida State, when the Jackets forced 17 turnovers and shot 10-for-27 from 3-point range in their 75-61 win.

The Jackets’ defense was commendable. Miami committed a season-high 17 turnovers and had its second-lowest field-goal percentage in ACC play (41.5%).

“We were good enough defensively to win the game,” Pastner said.

However, Tech’s offense could not find its footing until late. Tech was down 53-34 after a Miami basket with 13:30 to play, its largest deficit of the game. The Jackets had made 14 of 40 shots at that point.

Forward Jordan Usher said a spark was lit at about that time, “but we definitely needed to get the energy cranked up earlier (Saturday).”

At that point, the Jackets rallied behind inspired play from forward Khalid Moore, who scored a career-high 19 points and brought the Tech faithful to their feet with a vicious open-court slam dunk that cut the lead to 65-59 with 3:53 remaining.

From the time of the 19-point deficit, the Jackets made 11 of their next 19 shots, the last being Moore’s dunk, as freshman guard Miles Kelly stuck three 3-pointers off the bench in scoring a career-high nine points.

“It was either now or never, so I feel like we just started to pick up,” Moore said. “Grit on defense, I feel like our defense got us into it. We started getting stops, scores in transition and that started to get us going.”

However, Tech could get no closer. Down 10 points with just under three minutes to play, the Jackets had two consecutive possessions with a chance to reduce the lead to single digits but came up empty, including a wide-open 3-point try from the corner from Kelly that rimmed out and a travel in the lane on the next time with the ball by guard Michael Devoe.

Devoe’s scoring struggles continued. He finished with 12 points on 4-for-11 shooting, including 2-for-4 from 3-point range. After taking encouragement from a productive shooting game against Division II Clayton State, Devoe was 2-for-9 from 3-point range against Florida State. Saturday, he passed up a number of 3-point chances that he has often unhesitatingly fired up in the past, usually successfully. The game could not have started much worse for him, as he missed a wide-open layup on Tech’s first possession after stealing a Miami pass and racing to the basket with no one in front of him.

“Anytime he’s got space on the 3-point line, I want him just to shoot it, shoot it, shoot it,” Pastner said of Devoe. “He has a tendency to try to turn those down and get deeper (against the defense). I’ve told him, ‘Deeper’s not always better, especially as great of a shooter as you are.’”

Devoe’s missed layup was one of many makeable field-goal attempts that the Jackets failed to convert, a contrast from the win over Florida State, when the bounces seemed to fall in their favor. Tech was 11-for-21 on layup tries after making eight of 14 against Florida State.

“Part of it is we missed a lot of layups that first half,” Pastner said. “You and I would be talking differently I think if we made those layups. And we had some great opportunities from 3 that we missed that we made on Wednesday and that we made on the Sunday before (against Clayton State). We just got in that scoring drought.”

For the game, Tech shot 26-for-59 from the field (44.1%) and 7-for-21 (33.3%) from 3-point range. Miami shot worse – 22-for-53 from the field (41.5%) and 8-for-25 (32.0%) from 3-point range – but the difference was at the free-throw line. The Hurricanes shot 25 free throws, making 21, while Tech managed 10 free throws (about five below its season average) and furthermore made only three. Two of the seven misses were on the front end of one-and-ones.

“We did a lot of good defensively, not so much in some areas offensively,” Pastner said. “But in the end, it just came down to missing some layups, and we missed a lot of free throws. So that’s the deal.”

The free-throw discrepancy did not appear to be lost on Pastner, who was hit with his first technical of the season early in the second half and then proceeded to vent following official Jemel Spearman’s whistle. The technical came after a defensive rebound by Devoe in which a Miami player made contact with him but no foul was called. Pastner was animated in his protest, a highly unusual departure from his usual behavior on the bench.

Georgia Tech forward Khalid Moore drives to the basket in the Yellow Jackets' loss to Miami Jan. 29, 2022 at McCamish Pavilion. (Anthony McClellan/Georgia Tech Athletics)

Credit: Anthony McClellan

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Credit: Anthony McClellan

Pastner said that he doesn’t spend much time in games working the officials, “and if I do get upset about a call, I feel I have a right to get on that.”

Usher suspected it might have been a motivational tactic for the Jackets.

“It’s not really like him,” Usher said. “I think the referee might have been a little harsh, too. He smacks the table a lot. He can’t get mad at him for doing it one time.”

Tech (10-11, 2-7 ACC) lost despite the career game from Moore, who added three rebounds and a steal in 35 minutes of play. Usher added 15 points with 10 rebounds and six assists, his fifth double-double of the season.

“He was our MVP for the game last game (against FSU), kept a whole bunch of balls alive doing all the gritty work, and (Saturday) he got to show some of the offensive skill that I’ve been waiting for him to pull out,” Usher said of Moore. “I know he’s bene waiting to be able to pull it out in a game. I just hope he rides this wave all the way through the end of the season. I’m sure he will.”

Moore, who has embraced his status as a role player, was ready to assert himself Saturday.

“Honestly, I came in with an intent to be aggressive so that’s how I started off the game,” he said. “Once I saw the ball go in once, I felt like I got more comfortable doing it, so I just tried to keep up the energy the whole game.”

Miami (16-5, 8-2) remained in first place in the ACC. Guard Kameron McGusty led with 20 points, including 8-for-8 from the line. McGusty was responsible for the game’s most notable guest, Hawks All-Star Trae Young. McGusty previously was at Oklahoma, where he and Young were teammates for the 2017-18 season.

Tech continues with a road game at Virginia Tech Wednesday and a home game against Clemson next Saturday. The two teams are a combined 6-13 in ACC play. Usher said he remained hopeful and excited for the rest of the season.

“I still think we’ve got a good chance, and it’s a good turning point coming around,” he said. “We’re making the right curve, we’re on that curve. I can almost see the house, pulling in the neighborhood. I can hear the kids cheering and stuff. I’m almost there – we’re almost there – and once we sit down, we’ve just got to see what they’re cooking and eat the dinner table. We’re almost there, though. We’re on the way.”