After finding itself on the brink of disaster, the Georgia Tech basketball team is now on the brink of a breakthrough.
Three weeks ago the Yellow Jackets were 5-6 and looked lost after losing to Wright State. Now, with the team healthy and most parts functioning properly, they are 10-7, 3-1 in the ACC and own a four-game winning streak.
That leaves them with a huge opportunity Thursday when the Yellow Jackets host No. 2-ranked Virginia at McCamish Pavilion. A win would give Georgia Tech a share of first place in the conference.
“I know it’s a long way to go, but it is for first place,” Georgia Tech head coach Josh Pastner said
The game begins at 8 p.m. and will be broadcast on the ACC Network. The game is sold out – the first of the season -- and the school’s promotions team has arranged to sell $2 hot dogs and is asking fans to wear gold.
Virginia (16-1, 5-0 ACC) is the highest-ranked team to visit McCamish Pavilion and the highest-ranked team to play on the Georgia Tech campus since No. 1 North Carolina visited on Jan. 16, 2008. (North Carolina won that game 83-82)
Virginia leads the nation in scoring defense and is No. 2 in field goal percentage defense. The Cavs have not allowed more than 61 points in any of their conference games.
“Virginia is really, really good,” Pastner said. “We know we’re going to have to play great and play at an all-time high level.”
Virginia and Notre Dame are the two programs that Pastner always mentions when he speaks of building the program at Georgia Tech. Each has a strong academic tradition and play at a high level each year by “getting old and staying old,” as Pastner puts it. You rarely see a one-and-done player come through either program and this year is no exception.
Virginia’s starters include seniors Isaiah Wilkins, selected to the ACC’s All-Defense team last season, and Devon Hall. Junior Jack Salt is a sturdy 6-foot-10 center who is an excellent inside defender.
Much of Virginia’s scoring comes from their two young guys – sophomores Kyle Guy and Ty Jerome. Guy leads the team at 15.5 points and is a dangerous 3-point shooter. Jerome is averaging 13.8 points against ACC opponents and put up 31 against Boston College.
“I think it’s (coach) Tony Bennett’s most athletic and long team he’s had,” Pastner said. “They’re very sound. To beat Virginia you’ve got to beat Virginia. They’re not going to beat themselves.”
Georgia Tech’s defense is nothing to sneeze at, either. The Yellow Jackets allow 62.9 points, third-best in the ACC and No. 13 in the nation. They have allowed no more than 60 points during their four-game winning streak.
“Last year I thought we were an elite defensive team,” Pastner said. “If you look at the ACC statistics, defensively the two best teams are Virginia and Georgia Tech.”
The offense has improved since the return of guard Josh Okogie, who averages a team-high 18.8 points. Forward Abdoulaye Gueye is averaging 5.5 for the season, but is averaging 12.7 over the last three games and has been the most improved player on the roster. Center Ben Lammers (12.1 points, 9.2 rebounds) has shown signs of emerging from his offensive funk.
“Now that we have everyone healthy, we realize what we have to do to be successful,” Tech center Ben Lammers said. “Once we figure that out, we can be a dangerous team.”
Georgia Tech leads the series 40-39, but Virginia has won the last two meetings. The Cavaliers won 62-49 in Charlottesville in 2017.