Unknowns follow a season of near-misses for Tech hoops

ATLANTA — As the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets walked off the Bradley Center court in Milwaukee on Sunday, there was very little purpose, very little direction to the steps many of the team members took.

Tip-toeing aimlessly back toward the vicinity of their locker room, there was no reason to expect to see otherwise.

Heads probably spinning, minds likely replaying the close calls and the not-so-close calls from the game just completed, there were bigger things for them to ponder other than the question: What now?

But with Georgia Tech’s 75-66 loss to Ohio State in the second round of the NCAA tournament, that question is one that bears repeating right now, as the suddenly surprising Yellow Jackets look like a suddenly shaky bunch whose future is as uncertain as the ever-changing weather during a Midwestern afternoon.

“We’ve got plenty of pieces, who knows what’s going to happen?” Georgia Tech head coach Paul Hewitt said.

As in, who knows if the tall two-man tandem down low, Gani Lawal and Derrick Favors, will be back in the fall? And who knows just what all the returning Yellow Jackets will have learned from their postseason streak through March? And who knows exactly how Georgia Tech will replace the ever-present guidance and versatility of seniors D’Andre Bell and Zachery Peacock?

Only time and games will tell.

“We’ve just got to keep building,” junior guard Moe Miller said. “Build from this and hopefully get back here next year and go farther.”

Some of what they will be building upon throughout the offseason, which unofficially began Monday, will be some of the same things tried to change last offseason; namely, their luck.

After struggling to nine losses in the 2008-09 season that were decided by fewer than five points, the Yellow Jackets this season recorded a 9-5 record in such close affairs. With 14 games decided by such tight margins of victory, nearly half of Georgia Tech’s games came down to the final minutes.

Although decided by nine points, Sunday’s game was another that held players and spectators in anticipation and suspense until the very end.

“This reminds me of the story of our season,” Peacock said. “That was the talk of our season. We were always in the games, and some games we did come out (with wins) and some games we didn’t. I only remember a couple of games where we just got straight beat.”

With some players lamenting questionable fouls Sunday, as well as the sight of several shots seemingly going in the hoop before rimming out, the Yellow Jackets had trouble buying a break.

In that regard, no other moments were as telling as their Feb. 10 and Feb. 20 losses to Miami and Maryland, respectively.

Against the Hurricanes, the Yellow Jackets watched as Miami guard James Dews knocked down a buzzer-beater in the lane to seal a final-second victory. Nearly two weeks later, Maryland’s Cliff Tucker did the exact same thing when he rattled home a long 3-pointer as time expired to beat the visiting Yellow Jackets.

Call it bad luck or call it fate, despite those moments, Georgia Tech would not be deterred in trying to exact some kind of success to end its season. With their year hanging in the balance during the ACC tournament, the Yellow Jackets did just that.

“We all came together at the right time, towards the end,” Miller said. “We put a lot of pride to the side and our egos. We all just wanted to win and be successful.”

After streaking past North Carolina, Maryland and North Carolina State in the conference tournament, they were nipped by Duke in the title game when a 3-point dagger from Jon Scheyer fell in, while a similar look in the final minutes by Miller clanked inside the rim then bounced out.

Due to their success in the conference tournament, the Yellow Jackets advanced into the NCAA tournament as a No. 10 seed, beating Oklahoma State before their luck ran out Sunday.

“We were fighting for our lives,” Miller said of combating a second-half Ohio State deficit. “Trying to do whatever it took to catch up. Unfortunately, it didn’t go our way (Sunday).”

Regardless what happens with the junior Lawal and freshman Favors, Georgia Tech expects to return a long, versatile frontcourt with the likes of sophomore Iman Shumpert, Miller and freshmen Brian Oliver, Glen Rice, Jr. and Mfon Udofia. As a result of that young, athletic lineup, Bell is optimistic in the future of his now former program.

“I still think we have a very strong team,” Bell said.