Tech was able to top Virginia in their opening round match of the ACC tournament, but came up short against Duke in the second round. This closed out Tech’s record at 15-17 for the season.
Senior guard Anthony Morrow and senior forward Jeremis Smith led the Jackets in their 94-76 victory with 18 points each. This was Tech’s first victory in the ACC tournament since 2005 when they made it to the finals against Duke.
The first half against Virginia was a hard fought see-saw battle between the Jackets and Cavaliers. There were eleven lead changes within the first six minutes of the game. Junior forward D’Andre Bell accounted for seven of the first 12 Jacket points, while freshman point guard Maurice Miller picked up the other five.
The largest lead in the first half was a five-point lead by Tech which they picked up with 5:24 to play. Miller had an impressive half, going four-for-four from the field, three of which were three’s.
Tech’s offense as a whole was highly efficient, shooting 57 percent from the field and 50 percent from behind the arc.
The Jackets up-tempo style of play allowed them to gain 13 points off of fast breaks in comparison to UVA’s three.
“We shot the ball well tonight. The first half was very similar to how we played up in Charlottesville, where we shot very well. In the second half, we were hoping that the tempo would wear them down, but in the first four minutes of the second half, the tempo was bad for us,” said Head Coach Paul Hewitt.
When Tech came back on the court with a two point advantage to open the second, Virginia capitalized on the Jackets’ slow start out of the gate. The Jackets turned the ball over five times in those four minutes and picked-up five team fouls. The UVA tide peaked with 14:26 to play when the Cavaliers had a five point lead over the Jackets. But after a timeout Miller went down the court and hit a three to start to turn the game around again.
“This time of the year, it always come down to guys making plays…In that timeout, we were talking about how we were getting sloppy and let the game slow down to crawl and that’s not where we wanted it to be,” Hewitt said.
“Pushing the tempo is all about team work. It starts from the defensive end by making stops and getting rebounds…. Big men helping around the floor always helps to push the tempo, and with the guards pushing the ball up the court we were able to get the tempo at the pace we wanted to play at,” Smith said.
Once the Jackets retook the lead with 11:24 to play, there was no looking back. The Jackets went on an 8-1 run, which opened up a seven point lead, the largest of the night up until that point.
A 12-2 run with just over five to play to 3:21 allowed the Jackets to take an 18-point lead, all but clinching the victory.
As in the first half, the Jackets were far more efficient on the offensive side the ball. They shot just under 60 percent both from the field and from behind the arc in the second half, and their free throw shooting was a solid 85 percent.
Senior point guard and All-American candidate for Virginia Sean Singletary led the Cavaliers with 20 points, but was not able to rally his team to mount a comeback.
“[UVA] depends on [Singletary] so much. Our whole game plan was to try to keep the ball out of his hands and make them work to get touch every [for him],” Hewitt said.
The Jackets did not fare as well against Duke, falling 82-70 to the Blue Devils. Miller led the Jackets with 16 points followed by sophomore forward Zach Peackcock who had 13.
The first half was marked by streaks from both teams. After exchanging baskets with the Blue Devils for the first four minutes, the Jackets began to fall behind as Duke was able to mount a 13-2 run and take a 12-point lead with 12:15 to play in the first half.
After Tech got the lead back down to eight, Duke mounted another 12-0 run to take the lead up to 20. But the Jackets responded over the next four minutes and went on a 10-0 run of their own.
Duke was much better off the boards than the Jackets, outrebounding Tech 21-9. Duke was also able to establish a strong shooting game from the field, picking-up 18 points in the paint, while Tech only got six. Going into halftime, the Devils led the Jackets 44-29.
Even though Tech shot over 50 percent from three-point range, they shot 20 percent lower than Duke overall from the field.
While the Jackets were down, they were not out. The combination of guards Maurice Miller and Lewis Clinch shooting from the field and the big men Gani Lawal and Jeremis Smith having a strong inside presence allowed Tech to go on a 21-6 run to cut the Blue Devil lead down to two.
“In the second half we started sending some of those flat ball screens and attacking the rim and getting to the basket and throwing the ball to the inside, something we had forgotten about in the first half…we came out got inside to Gani [Lawal],” Hewitt said.
But Duke was able to regroup after a timeout and quickly reestablished a double-digit lead. Once Duke got up by 10 with 8:46 to play, Tech could not get the lead back into single digits for the remainder of the game.
“I thought this team made steady progress [throughout the year]. The mistake I made before the season was I thought our schedule was ridiculous. At Connecticut. At Indiana. At Vanderbilt… The credit goes to Jeremis [Smith] and Anthony [Morrow] for holding these guys together when we had all those close losses….We got a lot out of this team throughout the year,” Hewitt said.
The team now awaits the new season in the fall.