There are only five games remaining in the regular season for Georgia Tech basketball. Consider it the final two minutes of a closely contested game. The Yellow Jackets’ performance down this stretch will determine how the season ends — with or without a spot in the NCAA Tournament.
The run to the finish line begins at 6:30 p.m. on Sunday at McCamish Pavilion against Syracuse. That’s followed by a quick turnaround for Tuesday’s home game against N.C. State. The final three games are at Notre Dame, at home against Pittsburgh and at Syracuse.
“The five teams we play are really good,” Georgia Tech head coach Josh Pastner said. “We could go 5-0, or we could go 0-5. That’s what can happen in this league. We’ve proven we can win all five, but we’ve also proven that we can lose all five.”
While a five-game sweep isn’t likely, neither is a five-game losing streak. But with a 14-11 record and a 6-7 record in the ACC, the Yellow Jackets cannot afford to stagger to home.
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“We’ve got to get wins,” Pastner said. “Whether home or away, we need some wins. We have to protect our home court. We’ve got to find a way to win on Sunday, and it isn’t going to be easy.”
The Yellow Jackets are coming off a loss at Miami on Wednesday. They face a Syracuse team that’s in a similar situation. The Orange are 16-11 but 8-6 in the ACC. Georgia Tech is 4-7 against teams with an RPI of 50 or better, while Syracuse is 5-6 against those teams.
“To stand here now and even be talking about the NCAAs from where we started the season … it’s a modern miracle,” Pastner, who said he had a number of wins in his mind that it would take to get in the NCAA Tournament but preferred not to say it publicly.
“We have to win more games,” Pastner said. “Sunday’s game isn’t do or tie, but we’ve got to win multiple games if we want to have a shot. It’s as simple as that.”
Syracuse has its motivation, too. The Orange have lost two straight games and play back-to-back games against Duke and Louisville after they leave Atlanta.
Georgia Tech isn’t likely to succeed unless it gets better performances from center Ben Lammers and forward Quinton Stephens. The duo did not play well in the 70-61 loss to Miami, partially because of ankle injuries and the preparation time both players missed because of them.
Lammers had 15 points but a season-low three rebounds, and Stephens had six points on 2-for-9 shooting with six rebounds.
“Neither Q nor Ben played well,” Pastner said. “That makes it very hard for us.”
Georgia Tech will need to find a way to slow Syracuse graduate senior Andrew White III. He has played every minute of the past seven games and scored at least 20 points in each. White averages 17.9 points and has been in double figures in 26 of the team’s 27 games.
Syracuse’s best player is forward Tyler London (13.8 points, 7.8 rebounds), who is on the watch list for the Naismith and Wooden Awards. The 6-foot-9 sophomore scored 29 against Georgetown and 26 against North Carolina and will be a challenge for Lammers.
John Gillon, another graduate senior, averages 10.7 points and 5.3 assists. Two freshmen have been outstanding: guard Tyus Battle averages 9.7 and beat Clemson with a buzzer-beater two weeks ago, and forward Taurean Thompson averages 8.6 points.
Syracuse leads the series 4-3 and has won the past two meetings, including 60-57 a year ago.
Of note: The legendary “Lethal Weapon 3” trio of Kenny Anderson, Dennis Scott and Brian Oliver will be honored at Saturday’s game. The first 2,000 fans through the doors will receive a free poster, and each of the players will be available for autographs before the game.