Tightly contested and well-played, Georgia Tech and Georgia gave fans a game worthy of the rivalry. Making the last push of the game, Georgia Tech secured state bragging rights for the next year with a 79-77 win over Georgia Tuesday night at McCamish Pavilion.

ExploreThe AJC's complete coverage on the Jackets

“It was a good college basketball game to watch, I’m sure, to watch as a fan until you’re a Georgia fan at the end, right?” said first-year UGA coach Mike White at the end of his initiation into Clean Old-Fashioned Hate.

“It’s a great win for Georgia Tech and for the Yellow Jackets,” Tech coach Josh Pastner said. “Really, really proud of our guys, really proud of a lot of our execution in time and score.”

In a game in which both teams played offense at or near their peak for much of the game, defense decided it in the closing seconds. After taking a 77-73 lead with 2:12 to play on a second-chance basket by Terry Roberts, the Bulldogs were denied on their final five possessions of the game, as the Jackets thwarted Georgia with a defensive rebound by guard Miles Kelly, a steal by guard Deivon Smith, a shot blocked out of bounds by forward Jalon Moore, who then stole the ensuing inbounds pass and a charge taken by Smith in the first four possessions.

“That was elite and a winning play,” Pastner said of Smith’s taking a charge off Roberts.

The last was a desperation 3-point try from near midcourt by UGA guard Kario Oquendo that was just off the mark after the Bulldogs stole Tech’s inbounds pass after Smith took his charge from Roberts to gain possession with two seconds left.

“You’ve just got to settle guys in a lot more than we did,” Oquendo said. “I think everyone was thinking about a lot (in the final minutes). Like, we should have just played basketball at that point.”

Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com

Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com

The Jackets were making winning plays on the other end, too. Down 77-73 with a little more than a minute to play, Kelly hit a long 3-pointer in front of the Tech bench to cut the lead to one. On the next trip down, after Smith’s steal, Kelly struck again, this time hitting a floater in the lane to give the Jackets a 78-77 lead with 23.5 seconds left. After Moore stole the inbounds pass from the baseline with 6.5 seconds left (Roberts made the inbounds pass), he made one of two free throws to push the lead to 79-77, leading to Roberts’ final mistake, dribbling into Smith for the charge.

“What a tough finish for us,” White said. “We were in position to steal one on the road in the ACC. Did a lot of really good things. Really feel for our guys.”

Each misplay was haunting. White said that “we just kind of froze” on the inbounds pass that Moore reached up to steal.

“I’ll be thinking about that one for a long time,” he said.

On Kelly’s long 3-pointer, White said, four players were playing man-to-man defense and one was playing zone. That gave Kelly the space to freely launch his 3-pointer.

“That was the key play that led to their run at the end,” Oquendo said. “If we get that stop, we probably win the game.”

It was a gut punch of a night for Roberts, a transfer from Bradley who is the Bulldogs’ leading scorer and contributed a team-high 16 points with seven assists but also five turnovers.

“I think he feels like he lost the game for us, and I was just telling him, ’It’s alright, you didn’t lose it, we all lost it,’” Oquendo said.

Georgia Tech 79, Georgia 77

Of course, the emotions were diametrically opposite on the winning side. After losing five in a row to UGA 2015-19, Tech (6-3) has now won two in a row in the series. Kelly’s no-hesitation 3-pointer and the late-game comeback it drove were to be celebrated.

“I’ve always been a shooter, so I’ve felt confident with any shot that I take,” said Kelly, who was 0-for-5 in the first half and 5-for-8 in the second, including 3-for-4 from 3-point range.

The Jackets and their fan base had a night to remember. New football coach Brent Key watched from a midcourt front-row seat next a noted college friend, three-time All-Star and fellow Tech grad Mark Teixeira. Key spoke at halftime, bellowing “What’s the good word?” to eager Tech fans while telling heckling Bulldogs fans to go home.

Tech was led by Kelly’s 17 points along with forward Ja’von Franklin’s 13 points and nine rebounds to go with two blocks and two steals.

“It was just a matter of just toughening up and just getting a win,” Franklin said.

ExploreThe AJC's complete coverage on the Bulldogs

Georgia (7-3) saw a night in which it shot a season-high 53.4% from the field go to waste.

A crowd of 5,810 that included supporters of both teams filled the arena with energy and gave the game added life. Passes were deflected, shots challenged, charges taken and loose balls chased to the floor. Both teams, though, responded with some of their best offensive play of the season.

“They showed great support the whole game,” Smith said of Tech fans. “They were loud, made a lot of noise and they stuck through and we got the win.”

The largest lead of the game was eight points, by Tech midway through the first half. The lead changed hands 18 times in the game, including one stretch in the second half when the lead was exchanged on eight consecutive possessions. Over a four-minute span encompassing those eight possessions, the two teams shot a combined 12-for-13 from the field.

“There’s some stuff obviously we’ve got to collectively clean up, just like Georgia Tech,” White said. “Neither of us are our finished version. But those guys were good. Credit them. They executed terrifically.”