Three months ago, the Georgia Tech basketball team was considered to be one of the worst in the ACC. Now the Yellow Jackets are being discussed as a possible NCAA Tournament team.
Mike Brey, whose Notre Dame team was the Yellow Jackets’ latest victim, floated the balloon Saturday after Georgia Tech’s 62-60 win.
“Georgia Tech is a good team,” Brey said. “I believe they’re going to be an NCAA Tournament team.”
Georgia Tech head coach Josh Pastner didn’t dispute it, citing his team’s resume of four victories against ranked teams and two wins over top-10 clubs.
“If the tournament is today, we’re in,” Pastner said. “But there’s a lot of games left. The tournament selection show isn’t until the middle of March, so we have a long, long way to go.”
The Yellow Jackets have already come a long, long way, and Saturday’s win over No. 14 Notre Dame was the latest accomplishment.
This one was a slugfest, a slower-paced game with fewer possessions. It wasn’t over until the final play, which came about because of execution and hustle.
After Josh Okogie missed a pair of free throws with 35 seconds left, Notre Dame had a chance to work the clock and try to win it at the buzzer.
Matt Farrell dribbled out most of the time and began his drive to the basket. He was forced to throw up a little floater, which landed in the arms of Tadric Jackson.
Jackson was aware that he had enough time to take a couple of dribbles and spotted Okogie running hard down the right side. He whipped a pass to the freshman, who went hard to the basket and laid it in as the horn sounded.
Three who mattered
Jackson: The junior scored a career-high 25 points on 11-for-19 shooting, including three 3-pointers. He had 24 points against VCU on Dec. 7. Jackson had totaled 16 points in his previous three games.
Okogie: The freshman followed up his 35-point effort against Florida State with one of his worst games. He only scored eight points, six in the second half, but his effort on the game-winning basket was off the charts.
Ben Lammers: The junior center had his 11th double-double with 15 points and 10 rebounds. He played four minutes, something that has happened only one other time in the past 17 seasons. After the game, Brey became the latest to sing his praises.
The Yellow Jackets were on the verge of getting run out of their own gym before a sellout crowd when they fell behind 19-9. Georgia Tech got back in the game when Jackson got hot and scored nine of his 14 first-half points in a 13-4 run that closed the gap to 23-22 at 6:27. The Yellow Jackets took the lead minutes later thanks to an 11-0 spurt that put them ahead 33-25 at 2:24. Georgia Tech led 35-31 at halftime.
Jackson can be a difference maker: The junior can do some amazing things with the ball around the basket and adds another dimension from the perimeter. He doesn’t have to score 25 points every game, but even if he gets half of that, the Yellow Jackets become a different team.
Lammers has developed into an indispensable player: Lammers continues to get better and better. Defensively his long arms are shot-blocking machines (he was credited with three on Saturday) and changes a lot of shots. He has become more confidence on offense, too. On Saturday, he stepped out by the elbow and knocked down a jumper.
Josh Heath finally looks like the point guard the team needs: The senior played 39 minutes, scored nine points and had eight assists and two steals. He’s averaging 6.7 points since taking over the starting role from Justin Moore.
The sellout crowd was pro-Georgia Tech: In recent years, a sellout at McCamish Pavilion meant a majority of fans from the opposing team. Not so Saturday. There was a group of Notre Dame fans in the house, but it as a solid pro-Yellow Jackets assembly.
Paying homage to the past: After the win, Pastner made sure he acknowledged former Georgia Tech head coach Bobby Cremins, who was in crowd. Pastner has done a nice job trying to win back the school’s faithful supporters.
Was Jarrett Jack here? Students received a replica Jarrett Jack jersey when they attended Saturday’s game. Jack was the point guard who helped the Yellow Jackets reach the NCAA championship game in 2004. He played 11 seasons in the NBA. Jack received a standing ovation when he was introduced during the first half.
They said it
Pastner on the game-winning play: “For Tadric’s awareness to see the time and Josh’s speed and burst. That burst Josh O. had to have to get to the basket was like Usain Bolt.”
Jackson on the game-winning play: “Coach is always on us about guard rebounding. I looked up at the clock and saw I had time, and I looked over and saw Josh O. breaking so hard.”
Brey on the exciting finish: “We’ve had our share of thrillers in this building since we’ve been in the ACC. You’ve got to give Georgia Tech a lot of credit. They made the last great play. Our defensive balance wasn’t very good, and they made a great play.”
Georgia Tech plays Clemson at 7 p.m. on Wednesday at Littlejohn Coliseum. Georgia Tech defeated Clemson 75-63 on Jan. 12.