Last-second loss for Georgia Tech against Wake Forest

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — Taking dead aim at an upset, Georgia Tech could achieve only a well-played defeat. Leading Wake Forest by five points at the two-minute mark and ahead by one in the final seconds, the Yellow Jackets fell 71-70 to the Demon Deacons Saturday evening at the Joel Coliseum.

With the loss went Tech’s chance to build off its Wednesday home win over Notre Dame that snapped a nine-game losing streak. On back-to-back Saturdays in the state of North Carolina, the Jackets have played N.C. State and Wake Forest – two teams in contention for NCAA Tournament berths – into the final minute before falling short, this after losing seven of the first eight games of the nine-game losing streak by double digits.

“I thought Josh (Pastner) had his team ready to play, they played hard,” Wake Forest coach Steve Forbes said. “A hard loss for them. A hard loss for them. Because they played their guts out.”

Wake Forest guard Tyree Appleby’s two free throws with 2.3 seconds left lifted the Deacons into the lead after Tech guard Deivon Smith’s end-to-end layup had given the Jackets a 70-69 lead with 6.4 seconds left. After Appleby’s go-ahead free throws, Tech guard Deebo Coleman’s full-court pass to forward Ja’von Franklin couldn’t be completed, and the final horn sounded with the Jackets unable to secure possession. On the play, it appeared that Wake Forest forward Andrew Carr held Franklin’s left arm, leaving Franklin to unsuccessfully try to catch the ball in the lane with one hand.

“I felt like it was a foul,” Franklin said.

Had a foul been called, Franklin would have gone to the free-throw line for a one-and-one with a chance to tie or win the game. After the final buzzer, Pastner railed at referee Jamie Luckie as the official walked off the court, the last of several protests Pastner voiced. The Jackets attempted eight free throws (making all eight) to Wake Forest’s 24 (making 19).

Pastner’s season-long frustration with the league’s officiating continued. In post-game comments, he said without prompting that ACC commissioner Jim Phillips this week had sent an e-mail to the league’s men’s and women’s basketball coaches and athletic directors regarding sportsmanship and making public comments about officiating.

“So out of respect to commissioner Phillips, I’ll not say anything because I have tremendous respect for commissioner Phillips and I want to follow his directives and orders,” Pastner said. He referenced Phillips’ e-mail another three times in his 10-minute post-game news conference, his unsubtle commentary on his opinion of the officiating.

Tech came into the game second to last in the ACC in free throws per game (14.2).

“It was a tough one,” Franklin said. “The whistle didn’t go our way (Saturday).”

Pastner was not the only coach with a bone to pick. Forbes said that he thought that before Smith hit his go-ahead shot in the final seconds, he had committed a charge.

For Pastner and the Jackets, Saturday’s loss was bitter as they try to turn their season around. With Pastner’s job status in jeopardy, a road win over a team in NCAA Tournament contention would have given Tech a second consecutive win after the losing streak and been a clear-cut indicator of the team’s progress late in the season and the team’s perseverance in spite of a lack of results. Instead, the Jackets’ record dropped to 9-16 and 2-13 in the ACC. Wake Forest (17-9, 9-6) won its third game in a row.

“That one stings, because we had the game,” Pastner said. “That’s the way the ball bounces.”

On the road against a team with one of the most efficient offenses in the ACC, Tech rallied from an early 16-5 deficit to take the lead at 23-21 with 7:18 to play in the first half on a layup by forward Jalon Moore. The Jackets were sparked by Smith, who continued to start fast breaks with his defensive rebounding and set up teammates for scores.

“I put in Jalon, Tristan (Maxwell), Deivon, Ja’von and Miles (Kelly) and I thought that five gave us a good lift back, and we had good energy to find a way to take the lead and really play well the entire game,” Pastner said.

Franklin often overpowered the Wake Forest front line with his aggressiveness on the offensive glass. When the first half ended with Tech leading 38-34, the Jackets had scored 14 second-chance points off seven offensive rebounds. At that point, Smith led with nine points, three rebounds and three assists.

“They just were playing harder,” Forbes said of the Jackets.

Tech continued to outplay the Demon Deacons at the start of the second half, inducing unease among the announced crowd of 8,566. When Franklin jumped in front of a Wake Forest pass into the high post and scored on an uncontested layup for a 50-43 lead with 13:01 remaining, the Jackets had their largest lead of the game.

“Our teams have always gotten better, usually in the beginning part of January,” Pastner said. “Unfortunately, we’ve gotten better in this part of February. I wish we were getting better like this earlier. But that happens. But I’m proud of our guys to continue to stay fighting and competing. We’ve just got to keep staying after it.”

To that point, Wake Forest – second in the ACC in free throws per game at 20.1 per game – had attempted a total of six free throws. But, making a more concerted effort to attack the basket, the Demon Deacons went to the line 18 times in the final 12:01, making 15. By comparison, Tech took three free throws in the second half.

“Second half we drove, played off two (feet), slowed down,” Forbes said. “That’s why we got to the free-throw line. That’s why we got easier baskets.”

The free throws aside, Tech led 68-63 with two minutes to play and could not secure the upset. The Jackets had two possessions to add to their lead. Most painfully, with Tech ahead 68-67 with 23.7 seconds left, Lance Terry inbounded to Kyle Sturdivant on the sideline. Double teamed, Sturdivant had the ball pried loose and the ball was recovered by Wake Forest, setting up a go-ahead score by Appleby with 13 seconds left. That set up Smith’s own go-ahead basket with 6.4 seconds remaining.

“Unfortunately, we didn’t get a foul there,” Pastner said of Sturdivant’s turnover.

Smith finished with 15 points, five rebounds, five assists and two blocks against two turnovers, continuing his series of all-around performances.

“It just shows my work is showing and the coaches trust me,” Smith said. “I appreciate my team and my coaches for allowing me to rock out.”

Franklin also was a standout, scoring 14 with 15 rebounds, two assists and two steals against two turnovers.

“Franklin was a monster in there on the glass and around the basket,” Forbes said.

Tech plays its next game Wednesday at home against Virginia Tech.

“It’s hard, but can’t dread it,” Franklin said. “Just got to get ready for the next one.”