Basketball woes continue

The men’s basketball team suffered back-to-back overtime losses over the past week, falling 76-71 at North Carolina State on Saturday and losing an 80-76 heartbreaker at home against Boston College on Tuesday. Tech is now 9-9 for the season but remains winless in ACC play; the team has dropped all five of its conference games, three of which went to overtime.

The physical play of the N.C. State Wolfpack presented a new challenge for the Jackets. The game was very close for most of the first half; with five minutes left, Tech took the lead and built it to six points as halftime approached, but a late N.C. State push closed the gap to just one point, so Tech held a 35-34 lead after 20 minutes of play. A key factor for the Jackets was three-point shooting; senior guard Lewis Clinch hit two three-pointers in the first five minutes, and Tech put up more long-distance shots than usual while struggling to get the ball into the lower post.

“[N.C. State] stepped up and became physical, and we didn’t respond,” said Head Coach Paul Hewitt in a press release.

The second half saw the teams trade large leads. N.C. State center Ben McCauley scored six straight points—four on free throws—to give his team a 47-42 lead. Tech quickly battled back, and later, leading 55-54, the Jackets put together nine straight points and held a ten-point lead with less than five minutes remaining. However, McCauley and forward Brandon Costner led N.C. State back from the deficit, and the Wolfpack tied the game at 67 with under a minute left to force overtime. With the game tied at 69 and just over three minutes left in the extra period, Costner committed his fifth foul and was out of the game. His replacement, Dennis Horner, would guide NC State to victory. Horner scored six of his team’s last seven points and added two rebounds as Tech fell by the final score of 76-71.

The Jackets finished the game with a meager field goal percentage of 35.8, but they shot 55.6 from three-point range, led by Clinch’s 6-for-10 performance. Sophomore forward Gani Lawal notched a double-double with 11 points and 10 rebounds, and freshman guard Iman Shumpert led the team with 22 points, including an 8-for-10 mark on free throws. Despite N.C. State’s physical play, Tech out-rebounded them by the large margin of 41-25; however, of Ben McCauley’s ten rebounds, eight came on offense.

“We’re getting better. Our energy is great, our effort is great and our execution is much better…I’ve got to manage the game better and they’ve got to execute better,” Hewitt said.

Against Boston College, the Jackets looked to take advantage of a reeling Eagles squad that had lost four straight games after defeating top-ranked North Carolina on Jan. 4. Tech struggled early on, with three turnovers in the first 2:17, and Shumpert was forced to sit most of the first half with two early fouls. However, Tech played well after the initial moments and held a slim lead for the last five minutes of the half. Sophomore guard Moe Miller scored 11 points in Shumpert’s place, and Tech dominated the rebounding battle with 21 boards to Boston College’s 12. The Jackets also contained BC point guard Tyrese Rice, holding the senior to just two first-half points.

Both teams shot just over 40 percent for the first half. Tech also hit six-of-six from the free throw line in the first half. Tech has struggled with free throws through out the season. Coming into the game, the Jackets were No. 327 out of 330 teams in Division I Basketball, shooting just 58.7 percent from the line.

“We scored [a lot] early in the game, so we were able to put some type of pressure on him and keep the ball out of his hands,” Hewitt said after the game.

In the second half, BC began to build a considerable lead, and they went up 60-46 with 6:41 left as Rice began to warm up. By that point, though, BC center Josh Southern had fouled out, and starters Joe Trapani and Rakim Sanders were both in foul trouble. Tech tightened up its defense and began to close the gap, and after two Rice free throws made the score 62-51, the Jackets went on a 13-0 run, capped by a Miller dunk on a fast break, to take a 64-62 lead with two minutes left. During the run, BC committed six turnovers, and both Trapani and Sanders fouled out.

Hewitt credited the late success to the team finally being able to set up its press on defense.

“We couldn’t get into our pressure defense [early on]; you’ve got to score before you can set up your press. Give [senior center] Alade Aminu a lot of credit—he put a lot of energy at the top of that press, and…his efforts led to a lot of [BC] turnovers,” Hewitt said.

The Eagles managed to regain a two-point lead, but with 14.5 seconds left, Shumpert hit two free throws to tie the game and send it to overtime.

Tech was the first team to score in the extra period, but Boston College took a three-point lead with 3:38 left and held on until the end. Rice managed to score 24 points between the second half and overtime and was 10-for-10 on free throw attempts.

“He’s a great player…. He’s been in this league a long time, and he knows how to run his team,” Miller said.

Turnovers have been another spot of contention for the Jackets. Coming into the game, Tech was No. 303 in Division I for turnovers per game, averaging 16.9 per game. The Jackets surpassed the season average against Boston College, committing 20. The Eagles committed 16.

At 0-5 in ACC games, the Jackets’ slide will not be easy to stop with their next two games coming against No. 10 Clemson on the road and top-ranked Wake Forest at home.

“It comes down to just making plays down the stretch…you’ve just got to make winning plays,” said Lawal.

“We played well…we just executed poorly on a couple possessions at the end, and I think that’s what we have to change…every game comes down to the ending,” Miller said.