The men’s basketball team began ACC play with two close losses, falling in overtime 88-84 at home against Virginia on Dec. 28 and losing 68-61 at Maryland on Jan. 10. Since opening the season 8-2, the team has struggled of late, losing four of its last six games heading into Wednesday night’s matchup against second-ranked Duke.
Facing Virginia, Tech struggled out of the gate, falling behind 17-6 in the early minutes. However, the Jackets recovered to close the gap to 44-37 by halftime and took their first lead early in the second half. The game was close after that point, with Tech leading slightly for most of the second half. The Cavaliers eventually tied the game at 69 with just over a minute left, but after senior guard Lewis Clinch hit a three-pointer and two free throws to help Tech build a 74-71 lead, Virginia’s Jamil Tucker hit a game-tying three-pointer with 15 seconds left to send the game to overtime.
“We had a three-point lead [toward the end of regulation] with some free throws that could have put the game away, but we didn’t make them,” said Head Coach Paul Hewitt in a press release.
The extra period witnessed five lead changes and no lead of more than two points until the final seconds. With Virginia up 84-82 in the final minute, Tech sophomore forward Gani Lawal stole the ball and raced down the court for the game-tying dunk with 14 seconds remaining. However, Virginia immediately responded with a layup to take the lead, and a last-second jumper by Clinch was off the mark, sealing the game for the Cavaliers.
For the game, Tech shot only 48.5 percent (16-33) from the line and has struggled all season in that department, averaging 58.9 percent per game. The team was solid on the boards as the Jackets out-rebounded Virginia 50-42, and four players notched at least eight rebounds, led by 12 from senior center Alade Aminu.
Lawal, who had nine rebounds, led the team with 21 points, followed by 18 each from Clinch and freshman guard Iman Shumpert. However, another notable figure was that Tech only got five points from its bench players.
“Obviously we would like to see more from our bench, but I thought our starters had it going pretty good offensively out there,” Hewitt said.
After a 2-1 stretch against non-conference opponents that culminated in the comeback home victory over Georgia, the Jackets traveled to Maryland on Saturday. This game featured the return of sophomore point guard Moe Miller, who had missed seven games after suffering a nose fracture against Illinois-Chicago on Dec. 14.
The game saw little scoring early, but Tech was ahead for most of the first half, leading by as many as eight and going into halftime up 31-26. A strong defensive performance held Maryland to a first-half field goal percentage of 25.0 percent. The Terrapins were not able to take adavantage of their shots from behind the arc shooting 7.1percent (1-14). On offense, Tech shot a strong 52.3 percent from the field, but was only able to mount a five-point lead because of the18 turnovers the team committed in the first half.
“We were looking to get something good even if it wasn’t there, as opposed to just making the good pass. I think at times we were trying to force stuff that really wasn’t there,” Lawal said.
Tech built the lead to 50-40 with just under ten minutes left in the game, but Maryland went on a 15-2 run to pull ahead, aided by three Tech turnovers in that span. Clinch tied the game at 55 with a three-pointer, and the teams battled to a 61-61 tie with just over a minute left, but Tech was unable to keep up over the final stretch. The Jackets did not hit any shots over the final minute, and Maryland scored its final seven points on free throws as they secured the 68-61 win.
“I don’t think we got the ball inside enough and I thought there were too many loose balls that we didn’t get…When we were up eight, we stopped going to the basket strong…We had a couple shots blocked. There’s really no excuse for that,” Hewitt said.
The Jackets bested the Terrapins in nearly every major statistical category but committed 28 turnovers. Tech shot 42.9 percent from the field and 31.3 percent from the three-point line. Maryland’s, on the other hand, managed a field goal percentage of only 31.5, a full ten percent below their season average, and they hit only five of 26 three-point attempts. However, Tech fell off significantly in both areas in the second half, while Maryland improved in both.
Lawal and Aminu both had double-doubles, with Aminu pulling down 17 rebounds, and Clinch was the team’s leading scorer with 15 points. However, each of the three committed five turnovers as well. Miller had 3 points, 2 assists, and 3 turnovers in 12 minutes as a reserve.