For Pastner, whose irrepressible optimism and cheeriness often masks a burning competitiveness, it was an unusual insight into his dismay with the season.
“The frustrating thing is we’ve had an opportunity to have a different record because we’ve been right there to win some of those games,” he said. “We just haven’t been able to get over the hump.”
Wednesday’s path to defeat was familiar. Tech (10-13 overall, 3-9 ACC) had the better of the Hurricanes early, building a 32-18 lead with 5:56 to play in the first half. Freshman guard Deebo Coleman was at his best, making his first five shots, including three from 3-point range.
With their quickness and activity on the defensive end, the Jackets were fleecing the Hurricanes, forcing seven turnovers in the first 11 minutes, an accomplishment given that Miami (17-7, 9-4) came into the game averaging an ACC-low 9.7 turnovers per game.
But the Jackets even then were making costly errors with the ball themselves, repeatedly throwing the ball away in transition.
“I feel like we weren’t at our best (Wednesday) with that,” guard Michael Devoe said. “We’ve just got to go watch film and get better from it.”
Tech finished with 18 turnovers, tying its season high (set in its win over Clemson on Saturday) for a regulation game. Miami, meanwhile, after its flurry of turnovers early, had just five giveaways in the final 29 minutes of the game for a total of 12.
“We had some chances to really up the lead, and we made some key turnovers, especially in transition,” Pastner said.
The Jackets then went cold, as has often happened late in the first halves of games. Ahead 32-18 at the 5:56 mark after a 3-pointer by Devoe, the Jackets gave back all but two points of that lead by halftime as they made just two of their final 10 shots of the half.
A brilliant half by Coleman – 13 points on 5-for-6 shooting – plus 12 from Devoe ultimately barely moved the needle.
In the second half, the 3-point shooting went dry (1-for-9 after 6-for-15 shooting in the first half), and the Jackets had to play their small lineup because forward Jordan Meka, who came off the bench for the second game in a row to give a strong defensive effort, took his fourth foul in the final minute of the first half. He didn’t go back into the game until five minutes remained.
“I appreciate his effort, but he’s got to know better about not getting that foul,” said Pastner, who is unusual in his willingness to keep players in the game in the first half after they’ve picked up their second and even third fouls.
Besides the 3-point shooting cooling off and the Hurricanes scoring all six of their second-chance points when Meka was on the bench to start the second half, officials found reason to call Tech for 18 second-half fouls to 11 for Miami, including eight of the first 11 called after halftime.
Miami took 26 free throws (making 20) to 14 for Tech (making 11). It mirrored the advantage that the Hurricanes enjoyed in their 73-62 win over the Jackets on Jan. 29 at McCamish Pavilion.
“I would say that people don’t like the fact that we won the ACC championship last year,” said Devoe, who has often expressed his frustrations with officiating this season.
Pastner’s frustration with the officiating was evident. Not always demonstrative with the referees in response to calls, Pastner threw down his hands in disgust after guard Kyle Sturdivant was called for a charge with 3:29 left in the game and Miami ahead 69-61.
“It’s almost getting regular to just drive in (to the basket) and get smacked on something and cut up and not get a foul,” forward Jordan Usher said. “And the ref will even say, ‘We’ll make it up’ or ‘We might have missed that one.’ But that’s just playing at Tech. That’s how it kind of is.”
Devoe and Miami guard Kameron McGusty were hit with offsetting technicals after tempers flared with 1:28 left in the game that required both coaching staffs to separate the players. (In a rarity, Tech guard Bubba Parham was disqualified for leaving the bench during the skirmish.) The two players continued their barking in the postgame handshake line.
“All I’m going to say is, I don’t think we did anything wrong, but they can see how they want to see it,” Usher said. “I think I saw where it started, that’s all I’m going to say. I feel like we didn’t do anything wrong.”
Tech was down 59-56 with a little more than six minutes to play when McGusty hit a jumper for a five-point lead. On the play, Coleman was assessed for a foul away from the shot, and forward Sam Waardenburg made both free throws for a 63-56 lead with 6:07 to play.
It provided a margin that was sufficient for the game’s remainder. Tech did not get closer than four points the rest of the way.
“That was a big swing,” Pastner said.
A frustrating season took another step, this one influenced by a free-throw imbalance but also too many mistakes.
“When we have 18 turnovers, we don’t give ourselves a chance to win,” Devoe said. “Especially in an environment like this, when we know we’re not going to get calls, we’re not going to get anything we want.”