College basketball is slowly approaching its pinnacle moment, and with both of Tech’s teams struggling in conference play, the hope is that they will just finish strong with momentum going into the offseason. This past week saw three games between the men and women’s teams: two for the men and one for the women.
The men kicked off the week of hoops on Tuesday against Clemson, who stands atop the ACC, for a 9 p.m. matchup. From the second the ball was tipped off, it was clear the Jackets’ minds were not yet on the court, as Clemson nailed three straight three pointers and took a big 12-0 lead in just three minutes of play.
In response, junior guard Deivon Smith put the team on his back and got the night going for the Jackets with five straight points of his own.
Outside of Smith, the offense and defense were unable to find any sort of rhythm, and Tech proceeded to fall into a double digit deficit at 21-10.
The Jackets managed to turn things around with a big 12-4 run that brought the game within 3 at 25-22, but that was the closest Tech would get on the night, as Clemson went on their own run, stringing together eight straight points to take a 33-22 lead. The Jackets would make a small push into the lead before half and went into the locker room down 37-28.
Tech did a good job responding to the initial outpouring of Clemson points in the first three minutes, responding to the early 12-0 surge behind Smith’s 11-6-3 first half; however, to comeback, Tech would need a lot more.
Smith was relatively quiet in the second half and two key players, sophomore guards Deebo Coleman and Miles Kelly, just could not find the basket like they normally did. The men had the game slip away fast as Clemson jumped out to a big lead and things never turned around with Tech falling 72-51 to the Tigers.
The women’s team took to the court next, tipping off against Clemson as well, but this one was in McCamish on Thursday night. The ladies were coming off of their first conference win with Syracuse and looking to expand on that; however, the team quickly found themselves in a 10-4 hole against the Tigers. The ladies beat back adversity and fought to re-enter the game behind senior guard Cameron Swartz and sophomore forward Kayla Blackshear, who both made big plays to get the game to 15-15 at the end of the first quarter.
The second quarter told a different story with Tech marching to a lead and making big plays to sustain it. The Jackets went up 28-23 behind Swartz drawing a charge then turning it into points on a drive of her own. Tech continued to capitalize on Clemson mistakes and turn them into points as Swartz found her rhythm from beyond the arch, while freshman guard Tonie Morgan seemed incapable of missing the basket. The Jackets took a 34-29 lead into the locker room. If they could sustain this level of play, a second ACC win was within sight.
The third quarter showcased an offensive explosion from both teams as Swartz and Blackshear made play after play — forcing turnovers, knocking down layups and getting a hot hand from beyond the arch. Tech pulled up by as much as 13, leading 49-36, but Clemson would not be turned away so easily, making consistent marches that minimized the lead. However, it seemed to be destiny that Tech take this game as senior center Nerea Hermosa stepped up in a big way for the first time this season. She began taking balls to the basket and hitting jumpers from beyond the paint, landing Tech a seven point lead as the band struck up the Budweiser: 57-50. The fourth quarter continued Tech’s defense of their lead as, offensively, the Jackets could not be stopped. Swartz consistently hit points and Hermosa took the ball to the basket more often than not, highlighting what these two players were promised to be at the start of this season. Clemson attempted a late surge, but it was too little, too late as the Tech women claimed their second conference win of the year, 85-74, over Clemson. McCamish was not done for the week though, as the circled game on most Tech fans’ calendars was the men’s team match against Duke at home on Saturday afternoon. The game was all sorts of special as it would be senior guard Kyle Sturdivant’s 100th collegiate game and would pose a chance for Tech to get back in the win column for the first time in six games.
The Jackets did compete initially, exchanging points steadily with Duke, but the defense from beyond the arch was proving abysmal as Duke was knocking down three pointer after three pointer, going up 19-9 quickly. The Jackets made a run to recover, pulling within seven behind a Smith three pointer that made the game 30-23 in favor of the Blue Devils. The team then collapsed behind a Duke 13-2 lead to cap the half, putting the score at 43-25. It would take a lot for Tech to catch up on an 18 point deficit against a team as skilled as Duke, and the second half showed that it was not in the cards as the Blue Devils quickly silenced Tech fans.
The game was far out of hand with Duke being up 62-28: a 19-3 start to the half. The Jackets were playing for pride at that point, and did manage to string something together towards the end against the Duke bench. The Jackets fell 86-43 in a game that left many Tech fans frustrated with the program. The Jackets wrapped up very different weeks as the women came out with positive outlooks, looking to win some more conference games and establish some confidence, while the men were shut down by double digits in both games this week. There is place for improvement on both teams, but only if things change now.