Josh Pastner’s ball club continues to fight with other bubble teams across the country to make the NCAA Tournament. If they want to prove they belong with the best 64 teams in the country, they’ll need to find ways to win on the road and on short rest, a common occurrence this season due to rescheduling games when teams enter the ACC’s COVID-19 protocols.
The frequency of games has opened up Tech’s rotation to often include an 8th man in Rodney Howard, but his play has had little impact thus far. If Tech is to make a run to March Madness, Howard will need to find a way to be productive on the court in order to alleviate the necessity of a starter playing the entirety of a game, which happened in all four of the contests included in this week’s recap. The Jackets can ill afford to lose many more games this season if they want an invite to the big dance.
The Jackets have a chance to be a top four team in the conference and advance straight to the third round of the ACC Tournament if they can muster up the energy for this onslaught of games that will take them into March, but the lack of depth in the squad makes that quite a tall task.
The Jackets continued their road struggles in the ACC as they traveled to Cameron Indoor Stadium to take on the Blue Devils. The game was chippy from the tipoff and the Blue Devils took an early six point lead, but the Jackets kept it close and rallied to take the lead off a three from Bubba Parham with 8:25 remaining in the first half. Duke would quickly retake the lead and extended it to eight by halftime. The second half showed Tech’s ability to go on a run and keep games close, but the Jackets would only take the lead once more off a Jose Alvarado three with 3:25 remaining. The game stayed tight until the very end when Duke’s Jordan Goldwire stole the ball and was fouled. Goldwire’s free throws put Duke up three, and with a couple of rebounds the Blue Devils sealed the game, pulling away for a 75-68 win.
Jose Alvarado and Moses Wright both played the entire 40 minutes with 26 and 12 points respectively, but not much scoring was produced elsewhere for Tech. Michael Devoe and Jordan Usher, who have shown us their ability to score in a hurry this season, were only 2-9 and 4-9 from the field respectively. Only 11 points came off the bench from Kyle Sturdivant and Khalid Moore. Tech also sent Duke to the free throw line for 22 shots, whereas the Jackets only got five on the night.
After a heartbreaker on the road to the Blue Devils, the Jackets returned to McCamish Pavilion. They had to face a 16th ranked Florida State team that had already handed them one loss this year, but the magic of the Thrillerdome was alive and well, even with the limited capacity. The Jackets would play this game without Bubba Parham who was absent due to a death in his family.
A gritty first half that forced the Jackets into some long possessions and battling the length of Florida State in the post, Alvarado went and got the buckets himself to get the team going. He would play the entire 40 minutes again alongside Michael Devoe, the guards getting 21 and 19 points on the night, respectively.
Moses Wright had something to say too. His 23 points and six steals included the bucket that gave Tech a lead with 2:04 left in the first half that the Jackets wouldn’t surrender for the rest of the game. Adding Jose’s five steals to the mix, the Jackets forced the Seminoles into 21 turnovers overall, paving the way for a 12 point Tech victory. In the locker room video following the game, the team made it very clear that this win was for Bubba.
Less than 48 hours after grinding out a win in Atlanta over the Seminoles, the Jackets hit the road again for a Monday afternoon matchup in the KFC Yum! Center against the Louisville Cardinals, a makeup game from the Jackets’ time in COVID-19 Protocols. It was very clear that Tech was tired, and the Cardinals took full advantage of being on four days rest as opposed to Tech’s one.
Tech kept the game close through the first half and went into halftime only down six. Louisville went on a run to extend the lead to 18 in the first five minutes of the second half and the Jackets were left in the dust trying to keep up, lacking creativity and energy to generate offense or get a stop on defense.
Michael Devoe, Moses Wright, and Jordan Usher would score in double figures on the afternoon, but Alvarado only managed seven points and the bench gave Tech only eight. Louisville guards David Johnson and Carlik Jones would go for 24 and 12 points each, and center Samuell Williamson would come off the bench for 20 more points for the Cardinals. The Jackets ultimately took a 16 point loss and fell again on the road in the ACC.
Tech would go 4 days without playing again before returning to McCamish for a matchup with the Fighting Irish. The Irish haven’t made a lot of noise on the national stage this season, but they came into Atlanta having won four of their previous five games, and that hot streak got them out in front early.
They went up by as many as 17 in the first half and took a 15 point lead into halftime. The Jackets would rally in the second half, taking their first lead with 9:24 to play.
Down the stretch in a tight contest, Michael Devoe heated up and was given the freedom to shoot with his hot hand, giving Tech the lead with 2:08 to play and scoring back-to-back buckets to ice the game. Notre Dame had the chance to tie it up at the end, but miscues led to a failed attempt to force overtime.
Devoe and Alvarado each scored 19, Usher 16, and Wright 12. Four of Notre Dame’s starters scored in double figures, but starting guard Trey Wertz did not score. That combined with the fact that Tech’s bench outscored the Irish bench by one and Bubba Parham rounded out Tech’s starting five with eight points was the very small difference that led to victory.