Georgia Tech and No. 9 Virginia met up for the second time this season, and the Yellow Jackets again demonstrated that they can stand toe to toe with the Cavaliers. And again they fell, losing 57-49 Wednesday night at McCamish Pavilion.
Succumbing in the final minutes again, the Jackets relived the agony of having the Cavaliers swoop in to claim a game that Tech had controlled for most of the 40 minutes. Down 44-41 with 6:18 to play, Virginia swamped the Jackets with a 12-1 run to wrest control of the game. Beyond one game, the Jackets let slip away a chance to take a big step toward securing their first NCAA tournament bid since 2010.
“It stings bad,” guard/forward Jordan Usher said. “I’ve got high aspirations for our team, and I still do throughout the end of this year. Any loss in the ACC — we play a hard team every night — but every loss hurts. I wanted to be able to get Virginia both times. I guess we’ll have to wait and try to get them in the (ACC) tournament.”
Tech (9-7 overall, 5-5 ACC) adhered closely to its defensive game plan, holding the Cavaliers to their second-lowest scoring output of their season. Sticking largely with man-to-man defense, the Jackets pressured the ball and created 17 turnovers, a season high for Virginia (14-3, 10-1) and almost double its average of nine, fewest in Division I. Tech’s defensive stress induced four shot-clock violations.
“There was no issue with us defensively,” coach Josh Pastner said.
Guard Jose Alvarado was a centerpiece of Tech’s defensive efforts. Pastner loosed the 6-foot Alvarado, the ACC’s steals leader, on 6-foot-8 forward Jay Hauser, Virginia’s leading scorer at 15.4 points per game. In the first meeting, Hauser led the Virginia rally with 22 points on 9-for-12 shooting.
Hounded by Alvarado, who chased him around the perimeter, suffocated him when he had the ball and prevented him from getting strong post-up positions, Hauser scored a season-low eight points, although he scored two critical baskets in the final six minutes. Alvarado also led the Jackets with 18 points on 7-for-12 shooting as he played the full 40 minutes for the fourth time in the past five games.
“Going in there, I just tried to make every shot difficult for him,” Alvarado said. “I know he’s a little taller than me, but I was trying to not let him get the ball easily. Every time he touched it, I tried to poke it away and every time he shot a shot, I tried to make it as uncomfortable as possible.”
Said Pastner, “I don’t know who’s a better player than Jose Alvarado defensively in this league. He did a great job on Hauser.”
But, the Jackets, who have vastly improved on the offensive end this season, likewise had a rough night with the ball in their hands. They were 4-for-21 (19%) from 3-point range, a season low and well beneath their average (37%). Their 49 points were also a season low, well below the season average of 76.7 points per game. After the game, Pastner pointed to the difference in 3-point shooting, as Virginia was 7-for-20.
“There’s nothing else to look at, that’s the difference in the basketball game,” he said.
“He had some great looks,” Pastner said of Devoe, who was 9-for-17 from 3-point range in the previous three games. “He just missed. Hopefully, we get back ready to go Friday and a quick turnaround, and he puts ’em in the basket on Friday (against Clemson).”
Of course, a poor shooting night is all a matter of perspective. While Pastner bemoaned the Jackets’ lack of fortune on their open looks, UVA coach Tony Bennett applauded his team’s fight and effort in slowing down Tech.
Again, like the first meeting, Tech dried up in the final minutes on the offensive end. Tech went up 42-38 with 9:28 to play when Alvarado beat the shot clock by lofting a 3-pointer over the reach of 6-foot-9 guard Trey Murphy. From there, the Jackets went cold, often hurrying shots. They made three of their final 11 tries from the field. At the same time, Virginia made eight of 11.
“I really think we had a bunch of chances to score, and they hit shots and we didn’t,” Usher said.
Alvarado rued a possession shortly after his 3-pointer when he pushed the pace rather than settle the offense and work for a shot.
“If we do what we have to do this season, we’ll see them again and hopefully we get them back,” he said.
The game’s conclusion was not dissimilar from the Jackets’ loss at John Paul Jones Arena on Jan. 23, when they led by 11 points with 15:26 left in the game, only for Virginia to chase them down in a 64-62 win. Then, the near upset offered the consolation that Tech had stayed in the ring against the mighty Cavaliers. Wednesday, there was no such solace to be found. It mattered not that they managed to lead Virginia for 53 of the two games’ 80 minutes. (Put another way, Tech outscored UVA by a combined
“We should have won,” Alvarado said.
For good measure, Cavaliers point guard Kihei Clark delivered in the closing minutes, just as he had in the first win. Held scoreless in the first half, Clark scored 14 in the second, including four 3-pointers. He hit a jumper at the 5:26 mark to give Virginia the lead at 45-44, and then bagged an open 3-pointer on the next trip to push the lead to 48-44, an advantage the Cavaliers never relinquished.
“The game plan was letting him try to shoot the ball, but obviously that didn’t work out,” Alvarado said. “You’ve got to give him props, man. I’m a small guard in the ACC so I’ve got to give him some props that he made big-time shots when he needed to.”
Before an announced crowd of 1,200 eager to see the Jackets pull the upset, Tech instead saw its 11-game winning streak in ACC home games, a school record, come to an end. In sweeping the season series, Virginia has now won eight in a row against the Jackets. Bennett improved to 15-2 vs. Tech in his gilded career in Charlottesville.
Tech had the chance to send a strong signal to the NCAA tournament selection committee by beating the Cavaliers, No. 7 in the NCAA’s NET rankings. Instead, the Jackets can claim only another close loss to Virginia and consider what might have been.
Tech now pushes forward into the most challenging phase of the season. The Jackets will play Clemson on Friday night at Littlejohn Coliseum, return home to play Pittsburgh on Sunday afternoon and then finish the stretch of four games in seven days at home against Boston College on Tuesday night.
“We can’t use (the schedule) as an excuse,” Alvarado said. “That’s for suckers. We’re just going to go out there and play our hearts out. Hey, if our bodies hurt, hey, we’ll wait until after next Friday (to rest). We’re just going to keep on playing because we can’t duck no smoke.”