ATLANTA — The previous meeting was full of so many dramatic, up and down moments that it took a last-second, game-winning shot for Georgia Tech to earn an emotional home win over Wake Forest.
This time around, none of that was necessary. Rolling to their largest conference win of the season, the 22nd-ranked Yellow Jackets on Thursday night pounded the Demon Deacons 79-58 at Alexander Memorial Coliseum.
“This is the time to start getting rolling,” Georgia Tech head coach Paul Hewitt said. “Once you get into February — we’ve got one more game to go until the month of February starts — but February’s probably the most important month in college basketball in terms of what you want to make of your season.”
Following Saturday’s non-conference matinee against Kentucky State, the Yellow Jackets (15-5, 4-3 ACC) resume their schedule against heavy ACC hitters as they travel to Duke on Thursday. A month later, they will be preparing for the conference tournament in Greensboro, N.C. How they fare in the games in between will help determine their postseason hopes.
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Thursday’s win — the Yellow Jackets’ sixth straight at home against Wake Forest (14-5, 4-3) and largest margin of victory ever over the Demon Deacons — came less than a week after Georgia Tech dropped a two-point game on the road to Florida State.
“It feels good to have a comfortable win for once,” guard Iman Shumpert said with a laugh.
Last season, it was his last-second jumper from the top of the key that propelled the Yellow Jackets to a 76-74 win over Wake Forest that prompted students to rush the floor.
“It seems like every game in the ACC is a one or two point game; it’s a thriller,” he said. “It’s good to get up big on a team and keep them where you want them.”
In four of its past five conference games, Georgia Tech has kept opponents far from where they wanted to be offensively. Wake Forest scored 19 points fewer than it averaged.
In this latest game, much of that was the result of dominating efforts from Georgia Tech’s forwards.
“This game was attributed to our defense,” said senior guard D’Andre Bell, who had a career-high 16 points.
During the first half alone, freshman phenom forward Derrick Favors delivered four big blocks. Banging bodies with 7-foot center Chas McFarland and his 6-11 backup Tony Woods, Favors played one of his most physical games of the season.
“He was the swat patrol down there,” fellow Georgia Tech forward Gani Lawal said. “If he wasn’t blocking, he was altering shots. They were huge, man.”
Lawal added that the Yellow Jackets were focused before the game on taking out Wake Forest’s rebounding game, while also limiting the roles of quick, hot-shooing guard Ishmael Smith and forward Al-Farouq Aminu.
When it came to the rebounds, Georgia Tech controlled the second half, coming down with 27 in the final 20 minutes to cast an ominous shadow over the 16 they had in the opening half.
“The message at halftime was that our effort was good, but defensively it could be a lot better,” Lawal said. “You saw us pick it up in the second half.”
In terms of Smith and Aminu, the Yellow Jackets held Smith to just two first-half points before he erupted for 12 total by the end of the blowout. After knocking down a 3-pointer to start Wake Forest’s scoring 40 seconds into the game, Aminu went 5-for-15 from the field.
On the offensive end, Georgia Tech enjoyed the type of balanced showing Hewitt said, as a coach, he always wants to see.
Five Yellow Jackets were in double figures, including Bell, Lawal (14), freshman guard Brian Oliver (13) and Lawal and Favors, who each had 11.
Perhaps the most key points were scored with 14:43 remaining in the game, when Shumpert hit a step-back 3-pointer to spark a 14-2 run that allowed the Yellow Jackets to pull away for good.
“I’m not really sure if we can play much better than that,” Hewitt said. “We did a solid job (Thursday). I’m real proud of our guys, and I’m happy to get the win.”