Long dormant at Georgia Tech, March Madness has begun to exhibit symptoms on campus. The mania generated by the NCAA tournament could be detected Saturday afternoon at McCamish Pavilion, where the Yellow Jackets stormed to an 84-77 win over Syracuse.

After a sluggish finish to the first half, Jackets players were spurred to action by coach Josh Pastner, who beseeched them to pick up their energy, reminding them how far they had come to get to this point, on the precipice of a tournament berth. And, after the win, Pastner hopped on his soapbox and campaigned for his team, seeking to be the first from Tech to make it into the field since 2010.

“We are one of the 68 best teams in America,” Pastner said. “We deserve to be in the NCAA tournament, hands down, no-brainer.”

Considered a bubble team, Tech (13-8, 9-6 ACC) won its fourth consecutive game to further make its case for the NCAA tournament. The Jackets, who started the day No. 40 in the NCAA’s NET rankings, figure to improve a few slots with the win over Syracuse (13-8, 7-7), which was No. 55 before the game.

Forward Moses Wright powered the Jackets, scoring 31 points to go with 16 rebounds as he played all 40 minutes. He scored 19 in the second half, when he was 8-for-12 and scored six times on dunks as teammates found him in holes of the Orange’s 2-3 zone.

Along with wing player Jordan Usher, Wright led the push for Tech to rally in the second half, coming back from a 39-34 halftime deficit created by Syracuse closing the first half on a 23-5 run. Wright and his teammates heeded Pastner’s halftime message to play with the urgency that the moment called for.

“Everybody was like, if we want to go to the dance, we’ve got to make this run and get this win because this is a big win right here,” Wright said.

With his 31 points (he scored 33 against Syracuse in February 2020) and 16 rebounds, Wright became the first Tech player to record a 30/15 line since the great Matt Harpring hit 30 and 16 in February 1998 in a two-overtime loss at North Carolina.

“It was really the same game plan (as last year),” Wright said.

The Jackets were close to their offensive peak in the second half, moving the ball in and out of the zone to create shots at the basket and scoring in transition off Syracuse misses and turnovers. Tech was 19-for-30 in the second half (63.3%). Besides three 3-pointers, the remaining 16 field goals were scored inside the paint, 15 of them in close range. Of the 19 baskets, 17 were assisted.

Tech scored 50 points in the second half, its highest output for a half in ACC play this season.

Usher played with his typical fervor, scoring 19 points with seven rebounds, six assists and three steals. Usher was expert in taking the ball at the elbow in the middle of the zone and either going to the basket or setting up teammates for scores.

“I thought Jordan Usher was a stat-sheet stuffer,” Pastner said. “He just made plays. He was very efficient and very effective.”

Usher made perhaps the highlight play of the game with a little under five minutes to play. After a steal in the backcourt, guard Jose Alvarado passed ahead to forward Khalid Moore, who caught it and threw diagonally to Usher in one motion. Flying in from the right wing, Usher appeared to take off with his foot on the side of the lane and threw down a forceful dunk that gave the Jackets a 73-61 lead with just under five minutes to play. That was part of an 8-0 run that lifted Tech’s lead to 75-61 with 4:35 to play, helping to put the game to bed.

Credit: ACC

Tech (13-8, 9-6 ACC) won its fourth consecutive game - 84-77 win over the Orange - to further make its case for the NCAA tournament

Credit: ACC

“You saw it, ‘Ush’ coming down with his second dunk (of the game),” Wright said. “Geez, such a high flyer.”

The win clinched back-to-back winning records in ACC play. Remarkably, the last time that the Jackets did that was three consecutive seasons from 1988-90. It also put Tech three games over .500 in league play for the first time since March 1996. Every other team in the league has accomplished that feat since then, some many times, obviously. In the game, the Jackets were credited with 26 assists on their 33 baskets, the most assists by Tech in an ACC game since a 26-assist game against Maryland in January 1994.

It now leads Tech into another matchup with a bubble team, against Duke at McCamish on Tuesday night. The Blue Devils have won the past 14 in the series and 38 of the past 41, including a 75-68 win over Tech on Jan. 26 in Durham, N.C.

It doesn’t sound like Pastner will need to remind his team of what’s at stake for the rematch.

“We definitely hung our heads on the Duke loss because we felt like – well, we don’t feel like – we know that we’re a better team compared to Duke,” Wright said. “So, not going to sugarcoat that one. We’re coming in, Duke, senior night (for Tech), going to get that ‘dub.’ We owe them big time.”

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