1. Another brutal loss. Ahead by 10 points with at the five-minute mark, Georgia Tech allowed Virginia Tech to finish the game on a 17-5 run to earn just its second ACC win of the season.
In his postgame radio interview, coach Brian Gregory called the defense in the final five minutes “just atrocious.” It was indeed flawed. The Hokies scored 17 points in their final eight possessions, scoring on each trip, often on unchallenged shots.
Help defense was nonexistent. On-ball defense was lax. Shots weren’t challenged. Double teams were split. It was all the more vexing because it was uncharacteristic of the way that Tech has played, even during its 0-7 start to ACC play.
The last mistake enabled Hokies guard Malik Muller to take and make a wide-open 3-pointer after guard Josh Heath left him to help Chris Bolden when Jalen Hudson crossed him over on a drive to the basket.
“Jalen could attack the hoop, and I knew that most of the time when I get open, it’s because someone is driving baseline and my main is going to help and I’m wide open,” Muller said after the game. “I kind of knew it was going to happen.”
Up two, the Jackets could have lived with a two-point basket, but didn’t want to allow a 3-pointer.
“We had done a good job all game long taking away their corner threes, which is what they shoot a lot of, and we had a defensive breakdown at the end,” Gregory said post-game. “We left a man in the corner and you can’t do that when you are up two. That was disappointing that we did that.”
Defensively speaking, it was only the last in a series. By my judgment, of the six baskets scored in the final eight possessions (the Hokies took free throws on the other two), all six attempts were, at the least, not challenged well.
2. It was bad in all sorts of ways. It was the seventh ACC loss out of 10 by five points or fewer or decided in overtime. There was also a six-point loss and a seven-point loss and the wipeout at Virginia.
A stat to amaze your friends. If you take out the Virginia loss, the Jackets’ combined score in its 11 other ACC games is 728-728. Their record, though, is 2-9.
It was Tech’s third ACC loss to a team with a first-year head coach, following losses to Wake Forest and Boston College. It prevented the Jackets from winning back-to-back ACC games for just the second time in Gregory’s tenure. It was to a team that had had experienced the same inability to win close games.
All the positive elements of the game for the Jackets – freshman guard Tadric Jackson’s best game in the ACC season (10 points on nine shots and three rebounds), a great effort from forward Charles Mitchell (17 points on 10 shots and eight rebounds), a comeback from a 14-2 deficit in the first five minutes, another dominant rebounding effort – were squandered.
At 11-13, Tech will have to win five of its next six games (including its opening game of the ACC tournament) to avoid a losing record. That would likely require sweeping Clemson, to whom the Jackets have lost the past 10 games, beating Florida State (the Jackets have an eight-game losing streak against the Seminoles) and taking two of three games against North Carolina (two games) and Louisville.
I would submit that it probably isn’t in the cards.
I would also say that the difference between finishing one or two games over .500 vs. finishing under .500 isn’t significant, as win totals can be padded in the non-conference. Further, Tech did rather well against a pretty tough non-conference schedule. Regardless, it would be the sixth sub-.500 season in the past eight years. That hasn’t happened since the last five years of coach Whack Hyder’s tenure and the first three of coach Dwane Morrison.
3. There were two pretty fluky plays, at least, that went against the Jackets.
Up 58-51 with 3:38 left, Corey Heyward took an open 3-pointer from the left wing that spun around the circumference of the rim before falling out. A make would have restored the lead to 10 points and put the screws on the Hokies. But, it didn’t happen.
With the 60-55 in Tech’s favor with just more than a two minutes to go, Muller drove to the basket but lost the ball in the lane. However, Muller was able to dig it out of the scrum and, with everyone going for the ball, now had a clear path for a layup that cut the lead to three points.
If both those plays had gone the Jackets’ way, or maybe even if just one of them had, they probably would have won. But, obviously, they could have won had they defended Muller’s 3-pointer, or if Charles Mitchell had made both free throws with 29 seconds left instead of just one, or if the Jackets hadn’t turned the ball over 13 times, or any number of plays that gave the Hokies an edge.
Also, it’s moot, but on the final play, the game clock started running well before Mitchell caught the inbounds pass from Chris Bolden, which is why forward Marcus Georges-Hunt’s errant 3-pointer was taken after time had expired. The play began with 1.8 seconds left, and, when Mitchell caught it, there were about 1.2 seconds left. After a dead-ball situation, the clock is only supposed to begin running after it is inbounded. Georges-Hunt missed the shot anyway.