Without Michael Devoe, Georgia Tech prevails over Charleston Southern

Georgia Tech forward Jordan Usher scored a career-high 24 points to lead the Yellow Jackets to an 85-70 win over Charleston Southern Nov. 22, 2021 at McCamish Pavilion. (Danny Karnik/Georgia Tech Athletics)

Credit: Danny Karnik

Credit: Danny Karnik

Georgia Tech forward Jordan Usher scored a career-high 24 points to lead the Yellow Jackets to an 85-70 win over Charleston Southern Nov. 22, 2021 at McCamish Pavilion. (Danny Karnik/Georgia Tech Athletics)

With guard Michael Devoe watching from the bench, Georgia Tech encountered a firm challenge from Charleston Southern Monday night at McCamish Pavilion. With a career game from forward Jordan Usher, the Yellow Jackets pulled away from the Buccaneers in the final minutes, taking an 85-70 win.

Devoe, who leads the ACC in scoring with 22.8 points and on Monday was named ACC player the week after scoring a career-high 37 points in the team’s win over Georgia on Friday, missed the game with flu (non-COVID) symptoms. He sat at the end of the bench in street clothes wearing a mask. Further, guard Deivon Smith and Usher were questionable prior to the game for the same reason.

“Thankfully, they did (play) and Jordan Usher made some big plays,” coach Josh Pastner said.

Smith started in Devoe’s place, scoring 11 and playing 30 turnover-free minutes. Usher dropped a career-high 24 points on 9-for-15 shooting with 10 rebounds, three assists and one turnover in 36 minutes as the Jackets (4-1) won their fourth game in a row after losing their season opener to Miami (Ohio). Charleston Southern (2-3) pushed Tech into the final two minutes of the game after falling behind 8-0 and 21-5 to start the game.

“It was a hard game, but we found a way to get a win,” Pastner said.

Usher delivered in multiple critical moments, hitting two free throws when Charleston Southern cut the lead to 71-65 with 7:21 left, hitting a 3-pointer on a feed from Smith on the next possession to move the lead to 76-69 and then delivering what might have been the knockout blow – a 3-pointer that extended the lead to 83-70 with 1:46 left.

“I told Jordan before the game, ‘Hey, man, you’ve got to just dig in,’” Pastner said. “‘Like, you’ve got to fight it and find it and you’re going to have to be a warrior today.’ And he goes, ‘Coach, I just want to win.’ I said, ‘Yes. For us to win, you need to play the right way. Play the right way means you need to set the tone with your energy and your motor.’ And he set the tone with his motor.’”

Pastner said that Usher was uncertain about whether he could play even as late as the final minutes before tipoff. Pastner said that Usher told him that he wasn’t sure if he could play, and Pastner told him that he had to know whether he could put him in the official starting lineup that has to be entered in 10 minutes before tipoff.

If Usher’s name were recorded but then he were withdrawn for medical reasons, he would not have been able to play in the game at all.

“I said, ‘How about I just not start you and then we’ll just see how you feel?’” Pastner said. “He goes, ‘No, coach, I want to win. Put me in. I’ll find a way to get it done.’ What was that song, Put me in the game, coach, that they used for baseball?”

Pastner was referring to “Centerfield” by John Fogerty.

Usher made an impression on Charleston Southern coach Barclay Radebaugh.

“We have tremendous respect for him,” Radebaugh said. “He’s a really good player and a big personality and we’ve watched him play a lot and enjoyed watching him play.”

Usher was one of several players who made outsized contributions without Devoe in the lineup. Guard Kyle Sturdivant (17 points) and centers Rodney Howard (12) and Saba Gigiberia (six) also recorded career highs in scoring along with Usher. Howard was 6-for-6 from the field with six rebounds and three assists against three turnovers in 27 minutes.

Sturdivant scored nine of his 17 in the first eight minutes of the game. His early burst enabled the Jackets to build enough of a lead to withstand Charleston Southern’s rally.

“I feel like when we’re all being aggressive and playing decisive, we’re a really hard team to beat, and then losing Mike was also another chip on the shoulder, like we can’t lose without our guy on the floor,” Sturdivant said. “So we all stepped up, not just the guards.”

Howard has continued his promising form as he has replaced ACC player of the year Moses Wright as Tech’s post player. After playing a total of 143 minutes last season, Howard is averaging 8.2 points and 7.8 rebounds while shooting 64.5% from the field in 27.4 minutes per game. He was instrumental in the Jackets’ 88-78 win over Georgia on Friday, scoring eight points with seven rebounds (five offensive) with four assists while playing with four fouls for most of the second half. He particularly relished the win, as he transferred to Tech from Georgia two offseasons ago.

“I was pretty nervous before the game, but I was really, really happy that we won the game,” Howard said of beating the Bulldogs in Athens. “We hadn’t beat them since 2014, so that was big-time.”

With multiple players ailing, Pastner said that he was canceling Tuesday’s practice to let players rest and recover. He was also going to have the locker room deep cleaned, he said. Tech plays Georgia Southern on Friday.

“We’ve just got to get our team healthy,” he said.