Miles Kelly’s free throws give Georgia Tech win at Madison Square Garden

Sophomore forward Tafara Gapare of Georgia Tech shoots a free throw against Penn State at Madison Square Garden in New York on Dec. 16, 2023. (Photo by Brenden Willsch, courtesy of Georgia Tech Athletics)

Credit: Brenden Willsch/Courtesy of Georgia Tech Athletics

Credit: Brenden Willsch/Courtesy of Georgia Tech Athletics

Sophomore forward Tafara Gapare of Georgia Tech shoots a free throw against Penn State at Madison Square Garden in New York on Dec. 16, 2023. (Photo by Brenden Willsch, courtesy of Georgia Tech Athletics)

NEW YORK — Miles Kelly sank two free throws with two seconds on the clock to lift Georgia Tech to an 82-81 win in overtime against Penn State at Madison Square Garden on Saturday.

Trailing 81-80, Tech had possession coming out of a timeout with 16 seconds to play. Kowacie Reeves missed a 3-pointer but got his own rebound. His putback attempt was blocked, and the ball bounced to Kelly, who threw up a shot while falling down.

Officials called a foul, much to the chagrin of the partisan crowd, during the frenetic scramble on Penn State’s Ace Baldwin, sending Kelly to the line for a 1-and-1. The junior calmly made both free throws before Baldwin’s 3 at the buzzer at the other end sailed off the mark.

“Growing up, playing, you always dream of, like, hitting the game-winner,” Reeves said. “So I’m like, ‘I’m open right now.’ I shot it, I missed it, I’m like, ‘There’s still time on the clock.’ So I just went to rebound.

“Then (Kelly), being the player he is, man, with those type of players, they can impact the game. It don’t matter if they’re having an off-night, those type of players, they’re always good. He just do what he do – and I knew he was gonna make the free throws.”

The win for Tech (6-3) came after the contest saw 11 lead changes and after the Yellow Jackets saw a seven-point lead evaporate over the final 4:17 of the game. Tech hung tough, however, in the waning seconds of regulation and then in the extra period. It trailed three times in the final 2:20 of overtime before Kelly’s game-winning free throws.

“I told them this before the game, whether we were up 10 or down 10, the adversity we were gonna come through, we had to show ourselves, more than anything, that we’re capable of winning games like this,” Stoudamire said. “And we’re learning how to win together. That’s the biggest thing. You learn how to win together, and this was a great step in the connectivity that we have.”

Kelly finished with 10 points, six assists and five rebounds in one of several impressive individual performances by Jackets. Baye Ndongo had 19 rebounds (tied for 13th most in a game in Tech history) and scored 12 points, Tafare Gapare had 15 of his career-high 20 points in the first half, Reeves finished with 15 and Nait George had eight assists.

The Jackets also swarmed the boards as a team to the tune of 54 rebounds to Penn State’s 32. Tech registered 25 assists, its most in a game since also dishing out 25 against Alabama State on Dec. 17, 2022.

Tech next heads to Hawaii on Monday ahead of Thursday’s game with Massachusetts (5-2) at the Diamond Head Classic in Honolulu.

“To get this win here today, it was really big for us,” Stoudamire said. “I’m just proud of the collective group because going on the road is never easy and for us this is the first game of a long trip. So now we go to Hawaii, we’ll try to figure some things out. We’ll celebrate this until midnight and then it’s on to the next one.”

Tech dug itself a 7-2 hole at the outset Saturday, but fought back to knot the score at 12-all on a Gapare 3 from the right side of the arc. The Nittany Lions went on an 8-3 spurt from there before Kyle Sturdivant’s jumper from the left side got the Jackets within 20-17.

Both teams started 7-of-13 from the floor over the first eight minutes of the contest.

Gapare and Sturdivant knocked down back-to-back shots, Gapare from the left corner for 3 and Sturdivant from the right elbow, to tie the score at 22-22 at the 9:52 mark. That was one of six times the score was tied in the first half before a pair of Gapare free throws put Tech up for the first time at 31-29 with 3:25 left in the half.

Those free throws were part of a 7-0 run for the Jackets that was punctuated by Kelly cutting to the basket, taking a pass from George and finishing with a two-handed jam. Less than 30 seconds later George whipped an alley-oop to a soaring Gapare to put Tech up 39-34.

Baldwin’s 3-pointer at the halftime buzzer made the score 39-37 going into the break. Tech had a 26-8 advantage on the board through the first 20 minutes and had 12 assists on 16 made field goals. Gapare had 15 points in the first half which tied his career high.

Penn State grabbed the lead back, 45-43, three minutes into the second half thanks to a Baldwin 3 from the left side of the court. Tech answered with a 10-2 run that Gapare polished off with yet another right-corner 3.

The Jackets seized control from there and took a 61-52 lead on an Ndongo putback, the product of the 6-foot-9 forward pogo-ing for a rebound before collecting the loose ball and laying it in at the 10:31 mark. Deebo Coleman splashed a 3 from the left corner two minutes later making the score 66-56.

It was about that time Penn State when began its comeback.

“It’s not a matter of us being rattled, it’s organized chaos. They know what they wanna do. What we’re trying to do at that time, we were in survival mode,” Stoudamire said. “I thought we quit attacking. When you beat a press you have to attack a press. That’s the thing that keeps them off-balance.

“We were playing on our heels. We weren’t coming to balls. We were throwing soft passes, and that’s things that ignited them. I was proud of the guys for regrouping. We could have rolled over, but we didn’t, we fought and we got a good victory this afternoon.”

Tech had a seven-point lead as the clock crept toward four minutes to play. But Penn State scored five in a row to get within 71-69 in a span of 28 seconds. D’Marco Dunn hit a single free throw with 1:26 to go, cutting the score to 71-70, then Baldwin stole the ensuing inbounds pass and dished it to Puff Johnson for a layup giving Penn State a 72-71 lead.

The score was knotted at 72-72 when Tech called timeout with 34.9 on the clock. But once again Baldwin stole the ball, this time from Sturdivant, with 13.5 seconds on the clock. After a timeout, Baldwin missed a game-winning shot from long range on the left side forcing overtime.

Tech went the final 4:17 of regulation without a made field goal.

“I felt like in the second half, we had control of the game. And then Penn State, they do such a great job with their pressure defense, they turned it up a bit, and I thought we lost our composure for a second,” Stoudamire said. “But I thought the biggest thing is, in losing our composure, we didn’t lose our connectivity as a team. I thought the guys did a really good job of settling down and getting the game back to get the game into overtime.”

Kanye Clary led Penn State (5-6) with 23 points. The Nittany Lions forced Tech into 17 turnovers.