Quinton Stephens knew it was the final time he would step foot on the court at McCamish Pavilion, and he didn’t want to waste a minute. He soaked in the atmosphere, from the pregame warmup to the national anthem, and came out and produced perhaps the best game of his career.
The senior scored a career-high 23 points and hustled to the very end. When he walked off the floor with 58 seconds left, he drew a standing ovation and chants of “Q … Q … Q.” His white jersey was smeared with blood wiped off his freshly nicked finger, but that didn’t stop him for getting high-fives from his teammates.
And before he left the arena, he bowed his 6-foot-9 frame down and kissed the court. It was a fitting farewell for a relationship that had its rocky moments but ended in a honeymoon.
Stephens was at the heart of Sunday’s 71-57 win over Belmont in the second round of the NIT. The win improved the Yellow Jackets’ record to 19-15.
It was a typical Georgia Tech win, one that never lacked energy and effort, one that required the maximum intensity for 40 minutes. In the end, the Yellow Jackets kept their improbable season alive.
Four who mattered
Stephens: The senior said farewell to his home arena by besting his previous high of 22 points, which he reached two other times. Stephens shot 10-for-17 from the floor, including three 3-pointers, with eight rebounds, four assists and two steals. His long arms also proved to be the difference in changing many of the Belmont shots.
Ben Lammers: The junior posted his 15th double-double of the season with 14 points and 10 rebounds, two assists and four steals. His defensive effort can’t be overlooked, either, as he helped limited Ohio Valley Conference Player of the Year Evan Bradds to 10 points — his second-lowest total of the year.
Josh Okogie: The freshman continued to be the energy boost for the team and scored 15 points, with eight rebounds, five assists, two steals and two blocks. Okogie’s ever-improving defensive presence led to numerous offensive opportunities.
Tadric Jackson: The junior was commended for his second straight strong game. He scored 12 points, 10 coming in the first half, and had three assists.
Georgia Tech led 30-26 at halftime and outscored Belmont 24-5 to open the second half and take a commanding lead. The Yellow Jackets had two 11-0 runs during that span, the final one ending on a Stephens jumper with 11:17 that gave them a 54-31 lead.
Sharing the ball pays off: Georgia Tech’s first 23 field goal tries were assisted. The Yellow Jackets finished with 23 of 26, an amazing 88 percent. The team’s goal each game is 60 percent.
No turnovers, no problems: Okogie and Stephens, who handle the ball a lot in the Georgia Tech offense, combined for nine assists and no turnovers. Georgia Tech had only eight turnovers, which led to 10 points.
The crowd was into it: It was another electric night in the arena. The crowd of 7,176 — many of them on free tickets provided by head coach Josh Pastner — were into the game from the opening tip. Stephens said the noise was deafening at times. Maybe the free doughnuts distributed to fans in line helped jack them up a little more.
A record setting day: The Yellow Jackets won their 17th home game of the year. That broke the record of 16 established when the 2006-07 team went 16-1.
Seventy is so fine: Georgia Tech is now 15-0 when it scores 70 or more points.
They said it
Pastner on his first season with the program: “We’ve become a great defensive team, and overall we’ve become a pretty good basketball team.”
Pastner on the run to open the second half: “The run was great. We had to start the second half really well, which we did, and it came us confidence. We defended at a high level.”
Pastner on the record win: “Getting a school-record 17 wins is direct reflection of our crowd. They have willed us to victory, fantastic again (Sunday).”
Stephens on the crowd: “My ears were ringing; it gave me chills.”
Belmont head coach Rick Byrd on the game: “That’s a fun team to watch, and what a tremendous atmosphere. This place was excited.”
Georgia Tech plays at Mississippi at 9 p.m. on Tuesday in the third round. The Yellow Jackets lost in the third round at San Diego State a year ago.