Jackets hold on through Maryland’s late rally, reach ACC semifinals

In a rematch of one of Tech’s most closely contested games of the year, it came down to the final minute once again. This time, though, Tech was able to stop not one, but two potential game-changing shots. The Jackets held off a rally by Maryland after nearly blowing a 16-point lead to advance to the ACC Tournament semifinals in Greensboro, N.C., 69-64.

Sophomore guard Iman Shumpert led all Tech players with 14 points and was one of four Jackets in double figures. He also had four assists, two steals and a block.

The block all but assured Tech the victory at the end of the game. Trailing 67-64, Maryland senior guard Gerivis Vasquez jumped to attempt a three-pointer to try and tie the game, but Shumpert was able to knock the ball up, recover it and dribble towards the other basket. Vasquez attempted to just commit a personal foul but was called for an intentional foul.

“We wanted to foul there, but [Iman] just stepped up and made a big-time defensive play,” said Head Coach Paul Hewitt.

Vasquez, the ACC Player of the Year, missed two potential three-point shots that would have either given the Terrapins the lead or tied the game. With less than a minute left and trailing by two points, Vasquez pulled up for what would be an air ball.

“I could tell by the release that it was going to be very short, I was just thinking to get the rebound,” said redshirt senior guard D’Andre Bell.

Freshman guard Glen Rice Jr. rebounded the ball and passed it to Shumpert, who was then fouled. Shumpert sank both of his free throws to extend Tech’s lead to four.

“We wanted to keep it at least a two possession game, and every time we got in the huddle, we were just saying ‘One stop, one rebound, one stop, one rebound,’ and that’s how we kept them away,” Shumpert said.

The whole ending could have played out differently if one of the controversial plays had been changed. With 1:14 left to play, freshman guard Moe Miller dribbled the ball as the clock winded down. He penetrated inside, attempted a layup, missed and freshman forward Derrick Favors rebounded the ball and immediately dunked. The dunk occurred as the shot clock winded to zero and sounded, but the referee determined the shot had been made in time and counted the basket. It broke a 3:22 scoring drought for both teams and gave Tech a five-point lead.

“In that situation, it’s a judgment call, and it is not reviewable,” said Karl Hess, the referee who made the call.

The close game during the second half was vastly different from a first half that Tech dominated. Leading by as much as 19 points at one point late in the period, Tech looked as though it would cruise to victory. Maryland trailed in nearly every statistical category at halftime. Tech made nearly 62 percent of its field goal attempts while Maryland only netted 29 percent of its shots.

Miller and freshman Brian Oliver combined to make four-of-five from outside the arc in the first half. In contrast, the Terrapins could not hit any of their six three-point attempts.

“[I was just trying] to bring energy…We started off pretty sluggish so when coach put me in, I just made a commitment to myself that I just wanted to come out and bring the energy and get us pumped up,” Miller said.

Tech had 21 rebounds, including nine by junior Gani Lawal. Lawal had as many rebounds as all of Maryland’s starters combined during the first half.

“We scrapped, fought through it and came out with the win,” Lawal said.

The Jackets headed into the locker room leading 41-25.

It unraveled in the second half when Tech had trouble with turnovers and free throws for the second straight game. Maryland played a full-court press instead of the half-court defense Tech had faced throughout the game. While Tech was relatively successful in getting the ball in bounds during the first 20 minutes, it was the opposite during the second.

“I think they just had an aggressive trap…we just have to be stronger with the ball,” Shumpert said.

The Jackets committed 16 turnovers in the second half alone, including six by Favors.

“It’s not going to be pretty all the time, but after the first timeout that we took, I thought we matched their intensity, which is all we were looking to do,” Hewitt said.

The turnovers allowed Maryland to shoot 19 more shots than Tech attempted during the second half, including 11 more three-point shots. The Terrapins made double the number of shots as the Jackets, 16 to Tech’s 8.

While Favors and Lawal was able to force their way inside and get fouled, they both had trouble hitting their resulting free throw attempts. Lawal went to the line 10 times but made just five and Favors made only one of his five shots during the course of the game. Even Tech’s most consistent free point shooters could not sink the free throws in this particular game: Oliver, who had made 15-of-20 shots from the charity stripe during his career, missed all three of his attempts after getting fouled on a three-point shot in the first half.

Still, after allowing the team’s 16-point lead whittle down to just two points in a little over seven minutes, Tech was able to maintain the lead for the rest of the game and prevail.

The team next plays N.C. State in the second semfinal game tomorrow at 3:30 p.m. The Jackets narrowly defeated the Wolfpack 73-71 on Feb. 6 at AMC. Tech lost their last meeting in the ACC tournament in 2003, 71-65.