In a record-setting weekend for Tech basketball, both the men’s and women’s teams strengthened their cases to be included in the NCAA tournaments.
With victories over Syracuse and Duke, the men extended their ACC winning streak to five games, a record under coach Josh Pastner. Meanwhile, the women held off the Pitt Panthers to ensure their best conference finish in school history.
Pastner’s squad entered the weekend knowing they had two great opportunities to bolster their resumé for the Big Dance with matchups against two marquee college basketball programs with legendary head coaches in down years. Saturday’s game against Syracuse started extremely well, as the Jackets went up 8-0 in the first minute, aided by a technical foul on Orange head coach Jim Boeheim.
Boeheim is legendary for his vaunted 2-3 zone defense which the Orange have played for his entire 45-year tenure.
However, the Jackets were able to break down this defense all day. Senior Moses Wright was a force inside in the first half with 12 points and nine rebounds, five of them coming on the offensive end.
However, Syracuse caught fire offensively over the final seven minutes of the half, going on a 23-5 run to take a 39-34 lead into halftime. The ‘Cuse were led by guard Alan Griffin, who scored 20 of his 26 points before the break.
However, the Jackets righted the ship in the second half, regaining the lead for good five minutes into the half.
Junior Michael Devoe scored 13 of his 18 points after the half, and senior Jordan Usher made several key plays on both ends, finishing with an excellent overall stat line: 19 points, seven rebounds, six assists, and three steals.
The star of the day, however, was undoubtedly Wright, who finished with 31 points and 16 rebounds and helped the Jackets to a 54-24 advantage in points in the paint. This was the single biggest contributor to Tech’s 84-77 victory.
The Jackets then welcomed another basketball coaching legend to McCamish Pavilion on Tuesday night, as Mike Krzyzewski and the Duke Blue Devils looked to play spoiler on Senior Night. Before the game, the Institute paid tribute to four of their five starters this season: Wright, Usher, Jose Alvarado, and Bubba Parham.
All four have made a significant impact on the program’s success this year, especially Alvarado, who is a contender for ACC Player of the Year this season and leads the conference in free throw shooting.
Unfortunately, he was held scoreless in the first half against Duke, but a balanced effort by his teammates meant that the Jackets were only down three at the break after Wright hit a three at the buzzer. The second half was tightly contested, but the Jackets were able to open up an eight-point lead after Duke’s best player, Matthew Hurt, fouled out with six minutes remaining in the game. The Blue Devils then went on an 8-0 run to send the game to overtime knotted at 64.
Tech had seemingly put the game away when a Wright free throw made it 77-70 with 24 seconds left, but Duke did not go quietly, hitting two threes and getting an open look at a third that would have tied the game after Tech turned the ball over.
However, Devoe was able to ice the game with two free throws, and Tech escaped with a sloppily ended 81-77 victory. On the women’s side, coach Nell Fortner’s team closed out their regular season with a 65-60 victory over Pitt on Senior Day. Senior Kierra Fletcher scored 21 points in her final regular season game and reached the 1,000-career point plateau along the way.
Junior Lotta Maj-Lahtinen also had 22 points to lead the way for the Jackets. The Pitt game was the culmination of the most successful season in Tech women’s basketball history, as the team finished third in the ACC standings, their highest-ever ranking. The team’s 12 ACC victories are also tied for the most ever.
Several Jackets also picked up individual awards this week.
Lahtinen was named the Most Improved Player in the ACC after almost tripling her scoring average from last year to lead the team in points per game.
Tech’s other senior, Lorela Cubaj, received the ACC co-Defensive Player of the Year award after leading the league in rebounds and averaging a double-double with 11.7 points and 11.5 rebounds per game (one of only two players to accomplish this feat).
Finally, Fortner received the ACC Coach of the Year award for her accomplishments in only her second season at Tech.
Fortner has the team poised to reach the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2014.