Georgia Tech scores road upset of No. 16 Virginia Tech

Put into a position where it had faltered previously, Georgia Tech pushed through the barrier Tuesday night to gain a highly significant win.

Where the Yellow Jackets had made a habit of giving away second-half leads with hurried possessions and defensive lapses, they stood strong against No. 16 Virginia Tech to leave Blacksburg with a 69-53 win. It was the lowest scoring output of the season for the Hokies, who were playing their first game since Feb. 6 because of COVID-19 postponements.

“As part of learning how to win, I thought there were some games earlier that we let slip that we didn’t know how to win,” coach Josh Pastner said. “And part of that is learning how to win. And we’ve started to develop that. And that’s just part of our program and our team getting better and growing. We’ve improved, we’ve gotten better and it shows by the results.”

After the Jackets took a 48-34 lead with 9:23 to play on a lay-in by forward Moses Wright, the Hokies scored on seven of their next eight possessions. However, the Jackets were equal to the task, never letting the lead get below six points. Guard Jose Alvarado made a big 3-pointer, unhesitatingly firing up a shot from the wing after the Hokies had cut the lead to 54-46 at the 5:08 mark. It was another play in a senior season that has earned him consideration as ACC player of the year.

“Without hesitation,” Alvarado said of the shot. “I didn’t even know the score. I’m pretty sure if I would have missed, I would have heard it. But thank God I made it. I’ll take it again. Coach doesn’t mind me taking those shots.”

Wright led the way with 26 points on 9-for-11 shooting with 10 rebounds, his fifth double-double of the season. The Jackets won for only the second time in 12 trips to Cassell Coliseum. It was also Tech’s first road win over a ranked opponent since January 2015, making it Pastner’s first after numerous close calls.

“We wanted to make a statement out here that we belong at the top,” Wright said.

Georgia Tech (12-8 overall, 8-6 ACC) picked up a crucial win for its humble NCAA tournament hopes, gaining by far its most impressive road win. The Jackets came to Blacksburg in dire need of wins on the road and against likely tournament teams, and Tuesday night represented an opportunity for Georgia Tech to pick up both.

“We needed that game to go on our résumé,” Pastner said. “Our guys knew that, and it was a huge win for us.”

While Tech has more work to do, starting with a Saturday home game against Syracuse, the Jackets have a reasonable path to their first NCAA tournament berth since 2010.

Said Alvarado, “We want to go to the dance. We want to go dancing.”

Virginia Tech (14-5, 8-4) was held to 41.3% shooting from the field and turned the ball over 16 times while the Jackets shot 52.0% from the field with only seven turnovers.

Alvarado scored 13 points with five steals. In so doing, he passed Iman Shumpert to become fourth all-time in career steals with 210.

Georgia Tech head coach Josh Pastner speaks with Jordan Usher (4) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Virginia Tech Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2021, in Blacksburg, Va. (Matt Gentry/The Roanoke Times via AP, Pool)

Credit: AP

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Credit: AP

With the Hokies returning from their extended layoff, Pastner had hoped that his team could take control of the game early. However, while they were forcing Virginia Tech into a string of turnovers, the Jackets could not turn that advantage into a lead. The Jackets trailed 13-7 early and went into the half tied at 24, their lowest-scoring first half of the season.

The Jackets opened the second half with a 3-pointer by guard Michael Devoe followed by a drive to the basket off a pump fake by guard/forward Jordan Usher for a quick 29-24 lead. It was a lead that Georgia Tech held for the remainder of the game.

A 12-0 run pushed the lead from 29-28 to 41-28 as Wright used his strength and leaping ability to score seven of the points, with six points off three dunks. One of them was at the end of a particularly gritty possession by the Jackets that they managed to extend with four offensive rebounds of missed 3-pointers, with Wright finally putting the fourth back with a dunk for a 36-28 lead at the 15:16 mark.

Wright said he was motivated to perform against Virginia Tech forward Keve Aluma after seeing publicity given to the first-team All-ACC candidate.

“I was like O.K., this is a game I’m marking on my calendar,” he said. “I’ve got to show out.”

The Jackets repeatedly matched the Hokies basket for basket to keep them at arm’s length, unwilling to repeat the horrors of road losses to Virginia, Duke and Clemson. Devoe scored 12 of his 13 points after halftime.

“That’s not a movie, that’s a nightmare,” Pastner said. “And it’s R-rated and it’s scary and it’s awful and it leaves you sleepless for multiple nights and you can’t eat and you wake up in cold sweats. So I’ve seen that before. These last few games, we’ve learned how to win. We got stops and we executed at the other end.”