Georgia Tech survives scare from Howard

Miles Kelly looks to avoid the defense of Howard's Bryce Harris during Thursday's game.

Credit: Danny Karnik/Georgia Tech Athletics

Credit: Danny Karnik/Georgia Tech Athletics

Miles Kelly looks to avoid the defense of Howard's Bryce Harris during Thursday's game.

Miles Kelly willed the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets down the stretch Thursday as they survived a scare from a hard-playing Howard team, winning 88-85 at McCamish Pavilion.

Kelly, who scored 27 points and now has 52 points in two games this season, poured in 20 in the second half and netted his team’s final four from the free throw line. The junior guard also scored nine of Tech’s final 13.

“My teammates believed in me,” Kelly said. “They came to me down the stretch and it was my job to make plays. They just instilled the confidence in me and that’s what I did.”

The Jackets (2-0) trailed the final 12:37 of the first half and didn’t regain the lead until less than three minutes to go in regulation. That was a lead they wouldn’t relinquish - but just barely. Joshua Strong buried a 3 with three ticks left and then Tech threw away the ensuing inbounds pass. Marcus Dockery’s desperation, potentially game-tying shot from long distance was well off the mark as the buzzer sounded much to the relief for many of the 3,802 in attendance (including tennis star Chris Eubanks and former Atlanta Hawks star Steve Smith).

Tech’s Tyzhaun Claude scored 19 and pulled in six rebounds in the win. Kowacie Reeves added 15 and Kyle Sturdivant chipped in 11. The Jackets had just 12 assists on 34 made field goals, not typical of the style coach Damon Stoudamire wants to play. They did, however, bring in 22 offensive rebounds.

Howard (1-1), which received $85,000 from Tech to play Thursday’s game, scored 46 points in the paint, shot 50 percent from the floor and made 19 of 28 free throws.

“I was just happy more for (the Jackets) because they took a stand,” Tech coach Damon Stoudamire said. “They didn’t allow themselves to cave in. They kept fighting, they kept fighting ‘til the game turned. I think that’s a great sign.

“We still have a ways to go. But, at the same time, it’s always easier to critique and teach (when) winning rather than losing.”

Tech was down 14 with a little less than 17 minutes to go in the game but continued to scratch and claw to keep pace with the preseason MEAC favorites. Finally, the hot-shooting Bison went 5:09 without a field goal and Tech took advantage.

Kelly’s 3 from the top of the key with 2:43 to play put the Jackets up 78-76 and then Kelly’s layup one possession later made it an 80-76 game. Howard never got any closer than two points from there.

“I feel like we showed a lot of grit today,” Sturdivant said. “That was big for a new team, like we are, to come back and get that win. I just know we’re gonna build on it and try to start the game off with a little bit more energy. I think we learned our lesson from that.”

Tech returns to action at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday when it hosts Massachusetts Lowell at McCamish Pavilion.

Both teams came out sharp Thursday and combined to start 12 of 17 from the floor with four dunks (three by the Jackets and one by the visitors). At one point in the first half each team was shooting 76.9 percent.

Howard scored the game’s first run with a 7-0 spurt that included a steal and layup by Jordan Hairston and a left-corner 3 from Hairston making it 28-22 at the 10:38 mark. A little less than four minutes later, Bryce Harris’ layup put the Bison up 37-30 in what was their biggest lead of the half.

Tech would get within 39-38 on a Claude layup with 3:24 to go and 42-41 on a Reeves layup with 2:04 remaining in the period. Strong scored five straight to end the half allowing the visitors to lead 47-41 at the break.

Howard, coached by former Duke player Anthony Blakeney, shot 58.1 percent in the first half.

The Bison came out and scored six straight, including a soaring dunk from Harris and uncontested putback by Strong that made it 53-41 and forced a Tech timeout. That lead ballooned to 57-43 before Tech woke up a bit.

“(Stoudamire) was basically saying we need to pick up our energy. We worked to hard in the offseason and in practice to come out and have lack energy,” Sturdivant said. “Missed and made shots they come and go, but we can’t never go back and say we didn’t play as hard as we possibly could. That’s a bad pill to swallow at not.”

Kelly scored five straight to cut the deficit to 57-52 and then Deebo Coleman picked off a pass and took it the other direction for a one-handed slam forcing a Howard timeout with 13:13 to play. Coleman’s 3 with 11:48 on the clock tied the game at 59-all.

But the Bison didn’t blink and used a 10-3 blitz of their own to extend the margin back out to 69-62 with 10 minutes remaining. They just couldn’t quite hang on after that.

Shy Odom, the MEAC preseason player of the year, led Howard with 22 points. Strong added 18 and Harris finished with 17 and eight rebounds.

“(Tech) was resilient,” Blakeney said. “That was the thing that was just kind of evident to me. They continued to play. Their body language didn’t change. Their spirit didn’t change. And I think that’s a credit to coach Stoudamire and his staff. They’re gonna be really good and they’re steps to being good and they took, I think, a step today in being resilient in having to find a way to win. That’s not easy.”