Tech drops three straight ACC games

Coming into a stretch of three conference games in six days, the Jackets men’s basketball team hosted No. 15 Virginia last Thursday at the Philips Arena and were defeated soundly, 70-38. The Jackets then travelled to Clemson, S.C. on Jan. 21, where they lost after a late rally, 64-62. Finally, the Jackets returned home on Tuesday, Jan. 24, to face the Miami Hurricanes. The Jackets fell behind early and could not catch up in a 64-49 loss.

The Jackets’ home loss to the Cavaliers was the lowest-scoring game for the Jackets in twenty years, when they fell to Wake Forest 53-38 in 1982. It was also the Cavaliers’ fifth straight win over Tech, as well as their fourth consecutive win against the Jackets in Atlanta.

The Jackets were ice cold offensively, making only 29 percent of their shots from the field, going one for 15 on three-point attempts and converting just nine of 19 or 47 percent of their free throws. Only one player, sophomore forward Kammeon Holsey, reached double figures for the Jackets, as he finished with twelve points.

On the other hand, the Cavaliers got off to a fast start offensively, scoring 14 points in the first seven minutes to grab an early lead that they were able to hold on to for the remainder of the game. Sophomore guard Joe Harris scored 11 points in the first half for the Cavaliers, sparking his team onto a 21-6 run to close out the first half, and Virginia led by 18 points at the intermission.

The second half was no different for the Cavaliers as they continued to fend off any of Tech’s attempts of a comeback. The Jackets trailed by at least 16 points throughout the entire second half as UVA’s shooters continued to make baskets and grab rebounds. The Cavaliers finished the day with a 41-22 rebounding advantage over Tech.

Tech also failed to score in the last five and a half minutes in the game as Virginia bled the clock and earned their victory.

“As you know, whenever you’re in a position as we’re in of trying to rebuild a program, unfortunately as they say, there will be nights like this. As a competitor, it ticks you off. But we’ve got to bounce back and get ready to go on Saturday,” said Head Coach Brian Gregory.

The Jackets then travelled to play Clemson the following Saturday, a game that they also ended up losing, 64-62. Tech had 17 turnovers in the first half, before improving their ball handling to close out the game.

The Jackets were down 16 points with under six minutes remaining in the game, but the Jackets rallied to come within one possession to end the game. Junior Glen Rice Jr. posted 15 of his 19 total points in the final minutes to lead the rally.

The Jackets had no answer to Clemson’s Andre Young, who finished with a career-high 29 points and seven three-pointers.

The Jackets then returned home to Philips Arena to face the Miami Hurricanes. The Jackets hung with Miami for the first eight minutes of Tuesday night’s contest, but the Hurricanes—led by forward Kenny Kadji’s 21 points and eight rebounds—received strong outside shooting and post play en route to a 64-49 victory.

Miami’s top two scorers, Kadji and guard Malcolm Grant, both connected on over 50 percent of their field goal attempts for the game, and Grant hit four of his six three-point attempts.

Tech, meanwhile, shot only 35.7 percent from the field for the game. Junior guards Mfon Udofia and Rice led Tech in scoring with 14 and 13 points, respectively, but Rice hit only four of his 14 shot attempts and Udofia missed four of his five three-point tries.

Facing a Miami squad that had 285-pound center Reggie Johnson defending the low post, the Jackets avoided driving to the basket early on and relied heavily on outside shooting in the first half. As a team, the Jackets put up 12 three-point attempts in the opening half but hit only three, and they missed several midrange jumpers and shot attempts in the lane.

Miami jumped out to a five-point lead early in the game, pulling ahead 11-6, but freshman forward Julian Royal scored seven straight points on a midrange jumper, a three-pointer from the left corner, and a fastbreak layup to tie the score at 13.

Soon afterward, the Hurricanes broke the game open. Miami senior forward DeQuan Jones connected on a three-pointer and the Hurricanes went on an 18-4 run, as Miami opened up a 31-17 lead with three minutes left in the half. A sharp three-point play off a layup by Udofia cut into Miami’s lead, but Tech still went into halftime down 35-22.

A key reason for Miami’s early success was its performance on three-point attempts. The Tech players took eight three-point shots from roughly the same point on the left wing and were just three-for-12  for the half; by comparison, the Hurricanes put up shots from all points around the arc and were seven-for-12 on treys in the opening half.

While the play of Miami’s shooters was central to their early success, the collective ability of their post players to find open shooters was just as important during the game.

The second half saw both teams set aside outside shooting in favor of attacking the basket. With Tech’s players concerned with defending outside shots, Miami started to get the ball inside to Kadji and Johnson more frequently. Tech too started targeting its post players, attacking the basket frequently.

A 7-0 run early in the second half allowed Tech to close to within eight points at 39-31, but that was the closest that Tech would be for the remainder of the game. Kadji scored 14 points in the second half for Miami, and the Hurricanes scored frequently in the paint late in the game to prevent a late Tech comeback attempt and ice the contest.

Tech will go on the road for its next two games, playing at North Carolina on Sunday, Jan. 29 and at Florida State on Feb. 1.