Georgia Tech’s men’s basketball season turned the corner on Saturday, when the Jackets were able to pick up their first ACC victory over Virginia Tech, 81-70. The victory also snapped the Jackets three-game losing streak.
Senior point guard Matt Causey had a breakthrough game, leading the Jackets with 30 points. The total was his highest total while playing in Division I basketball, shattering his old record of 12 points as a freshman at Georgetown.
Causey’s 30 points included seven three-pointers, the ninth highest single game total in Georgia Tech history.
“Thank goodness for [Matt]. He played with a lot of courage today, but that is just the way he plays. He stepped up and made some big plays and that’s what we needed,” saidHead Coach Paul Hewitt.
“You have to take what the defense gives you. They were on Anthony Morrow and Lewis Clinch, so I just took my shots…Every game someone different has to step-up, especially in the ACC,” Causey said.
Coming off the momentum gained from the close game with then No. 1 UNC, the Jackets were able to take control in the first half of the game. Tech shot 58 percent from behind the arc and 50 percent from the field.
The defense also stepped up in the first half holding the Hokie offense to only 33 percent from the field.
“We have played the nation’s top teams down to the wire: Indiana, Kansas and North Carolina. We have the confidence,” Causey said.
Each of those games came down to the very last minutes or the last play of the game.
Tech established their lead early in the game and dominated for much of the rest of the first half.
“Obviously, we played very, very well in the first half. We were aggressive defensively and did the things we needed to do. In the second half, we were put back on our heels a little bit. They came out of the gates flying and knocked down some threes and things got interesting,” Hewitt said.
While Jackets went into the locker room at halftime with a 16 point lead, Virginia Tech came out at the beginning of the second firing away at the Tech lead, going on a 13-0 run in the first 3:30 to cut Jackets lead down to just three points.
“I told the guys that this was an ACC game here so to understand they are going to make some runs. We just need to finish out. I hope that we realize that if we just step up and make some plays, then good things are going to happen,” Hewitt said.
While the Hokies were able to tie the game at 55 with just under 8:30 to play, the Jackets never trailed Virginia Tech in the second half, retaking the lead and easily winning the game. Virginia Tech forward Jeff Allen was ejected from the game for arguing with officials in the second half.
“We could have responded better as a group, but you could not ask an individual to respond better than Matt did,” Hewitt said.
Georgia Tech’s two seasoned starters at forward, Anthony Marrow and Jeremis Smith, each accounted for 17 and 13 points, respectively.
Junior Guard D’Andre Bell also helped strengthen the Jacket’s perimeter defense, which held Virginia Tech to 4-15 from three-point range.
“We think we have something going here with D’Andre. One of the reasons why I think we are playing better basketball is that we’ve been better at defending the perimeter, especially with D’Andre out there…I feel like we just lose too much if we don’t have D’Andre out there on the floor,” Hewitt said.
But some weaknesses that have been haunting the Jackets throughout the season also became apparent in the game. The Jackets hit only four of their 12 free throws in the first half.
Still, they significantly improved on this in the second half, shooting almost 80 percent from the charity stripe.
While the Jackets were able to force 24 turnovers by Virginia Tech, the Jackets also gave up 21 turnovers, 5.5 more than their average per game coming into Saturday. Paul Hewitt also said that this was a big physiological victory for his team.
“We have had a hard schedule so far. We need to string a few wins together to start a streak,” Causey said.