Jackets torched by Boston College

Credit: Gerry Broome

Credit: Gerry Broome

At the end of a season in which improvement often came in the form of two steps forward and another step back, Georgia Tech got its legs tangled Thursday.

In the opening game of the ACC tournament, the Yellow Jackets absorbed an 84-64 thrashing from Boston College. They were swallowed whole by Eagles guard Olivier Hanlan, who scored 41 points and set an ACC tournament scoring record for freshmen.

Stunningly, in their second-worst loss of the season, topped only by a 28-point loss at Virginia, the Jackets led 15-0 and 28-14 before derailing.

“I thought we got away a little bit from what we needed to do when we got that lead, and I think young players have a tendency when you get a lead like that to think that everything is going to be easy,” coach Brian Gregory said.

It may prove to be the final game of the season. Tech (16-15) has all but eliminated itself from NIT consideration and will decide on whether it will participate in the College Basketball Invitational.

The Jackets looked little like the sharp outfit that stunned Miami on its home court only a week ago. Instead, the loss spotlighted again the team’s weaknesses — a habit of rushing possessions, difficulty playing with a lead, poor free-throw shooting and a tendency to lose focus. When guard Mfon Udofia scored on a jump shot off a screen with 7:11 left in the first half, Tech took a 28-14 lead. The Jackets were scoring 1.3 points per possession, a healthy clip. Boston College had made seven of 21 shots.

On Boston College’s next trip down the floor, guard Patrick Heckmann scored on a putback. Then, Hanlan intercepted the inbounds pass from forward Robert Carter, scored, was fouled and made the free throw. In less than five seconds of game clock, Tech’s lead went from 14 to nine points.

“It was bang, bang — we score, we steal, we score,” Boston College coach Steve Donahue said. “All of a sudden, momentum’s going our way.”

Including that sequence, Tech scored five points over the final 11 possessions of the half. The Eagles made eight of their last 12 shots of the half, spurring a 24-5 run to take a 38-33 halftime lead. Making all six of his shots in that span, including four 3-pointers, Hanlan scored 17 of Boston College’s 24.

“I kept telling everyone that the game’s not over, we need to just keep doing what we’re doing, talking and being active on defense, rebounding and running, but they started hitting shots,” said forward Marcus Georges-Hunt, who led Tech with a career-high 21 points. “We were losing it. We lost our mind. We started to speed up our game and get out of our game.”

Tech had no answers in the second half, and the hole grew deeper. Hanlan continually lost Tech defenders to get open for 3-pointers. After missing his first two 3-pointers of the game, he made his last eight, some of them well beyond the arc. He required but 18 shots for his 41 points, tying for the fifth-most ever scored against Tech. They were Hanlan’s career best by 15 points. His last attempt, a 3-pointer, bounced off the rim, curled around, hit the backboard and dropped through.

Said Boston College guard Joe Rahon, “He was putting on a show.”

At the other end, the Jackets stopped functioning. They made 11 of 40 field-goal attempts in the second half as the Eagles’ lead swelled to 25 points.

“I felt like the effort was there,” center Daniel Miller said. “We just weren’t playing like a team.”

Rather than try to set each other up for shots, players tried to create their own. Of the Jackets’ 11 second-half baskets, two were produced by assists, after scoring their 13 first-half baskets on seven assists.

Carter explained it as being “just frustrated, taking bad shots, trying to get the lead back at once instead of just taking it possession by possession, but it’s something we can learn from.”

The Eagles’ victory was their second over Tech in six days. On Saturday in Chestnut Hill, Mass., they rallied from 10 points down with 14:23 remaining to win 74-72.

“We changed some coverages from the first game because they hurt us so much driving the ball to the basket,” Gregory said. “This game, they hurt us more shooting the ball. So it’s like, what are you going to do?”

Besides his 21 points, on 8-for-20 shooting, Georges-Hunt also had a career-high 11 rebounds for his first double-double. Seven of his 11 rebounds came on offense. Tech’s next highest scorer was Miller with 10 points.

On a four-game winning streak, Boston College (16-16) will play top-seeded Miami at noon Friday.

Said Miller, “You can be disappointed about it, or we can get better in the offseason.”