Guards Kelly, Sturdivant provide sparks in Georgia Tech’s win

Tech's Miles Kelly finished with 16 points and 10 rebounds. AJC file photo

Credit: Jamie Spaar

Credit: Jamie Spaar

Tech's Miles Kelly finished with 16 points and 10 rebounds. AJC file photo

Georgia Tech’s four-minute scoring drought down the stretch against Notre Dame on Wednesday repeated an issue the team has faced all season — the Jackets lacked a go-to scorer in dire situations.

Junior guard Miles Kelly quieted that concern on Saturday against Syracuse, though, finishing at the rim with 31 seconds left on an and-one play, upping Tech’s lead to three. McCamish Pavilion erupted as Kelly, who fell to the ground after getting fouled, flexed his muscles while surrounded by his teammates.

The Yellow Jackets went on to outscore Syracuse 7-2 in the game’s final minute, lifting them to a 65-60 victory.

“Even though I missed a couple of threes later down the stretch, my confidence never wavered,” Kelly said. “Me and Kyle (Sturdivant) did a good job of filling out their defense, filling out their zone and trying to find our spots … and that’s ultimately what we did and that’s what we needed coming down the stretch.”

Both offenses came to a halt with two minutes left and the teams separated by just a point. It practically replicated Wednesday’s game, when Tech trailed by two points with a minute remaining.

This was nothing new for the Jackets, as 10 of the team’s 14 ACC games have been decided by single digits, but they’ve struggled to close the door. Tech has won just three of these matchups.

However, Tech coach Damon Stoudamire said his team’s two biggest plays came in that last minute: Kelly’s layup and freshman forward Baye Ndongo’s hustle play.

Following Sturdivant’s missed free throw with 22 seconds left, Ndongo dove for a loose ball amongst multiple defenders and tipped it out to Kelly in the left corner. Syracuse fouled Kelly seconds later to send him to the free throw line and solidify Tech’s win.

“Down the stretch I actually went in the huddle and said, ‘Man, somebody’s got to make a couple plays, if we can get a couple plays, we can win this game,’” Stoudamire said. “We were coming up with the loose balls down the stretch ... we got the big offensive rebound down the stretch, and that has eluded us in losses.”

Although Sturdivant’s lone free throw was his only point in the game’s last minute, he provided a spark for Tech throughout the contest.

With freshman guard Naithan George’s off-night from the field and three fouls by the second half’s first minute, Stoudamire turned to the senior Sturdivant to guide the Jackets to victory. And the Norcross native did just that, dropping a team-high of 17 points plus four assists.

Sturdivant’s biggest impact came from his ability to break down Syracuse’s zone plus he hit some clutch shots too. Following two early scoring droughts in the second half, Sturdivant nailed two threes to keep Tech’s offense on track.

He attributed the team’s quick ball movement and attacking the middle of the defense to cracking down Syracuse’s zone.

“I got into a pretty good rhythm, but my teammates were finding me really in the first half and really believing in me,” Sturdivant said. “From that confidence, I felt like I just got going.”

Kelly said “big time players make big plays” when asked about the difference between Saturday’s win and Wednesday’s loss.

Stoudamire added that he doesn’t see much separation in the conference standings and is optimistic about what’s to come.

“We limited a lot of the things that have been killing us when we lose games like this,” Stoudamire said. “I’m excited for what’s to come. You had to get one before you get two, hopefully we can come back and duplicate what we did this evening.”