Men’s basketball slumps, losing streak continues

Junior forward Miles Kelly sizes up his defender against Wake Forest. While Kelly was ultimately held scoreless in this game, he dropped a career-high against Louisville in the next game. // Photo courtesy of GTAA

Since their big win against the No. 7 UNC Tar Heels, the Jackets have not looked anywhere close to the same team. They followed the UNC win up with a tight six-point loss to NC State before heading back home to take on the Wake Forest Demon Deacons.

 At 15-7, the Demon Deacons were fourth in the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) and boasted one of the conference’s best offenses at 80.3 points per game. They are especially proficient from three-point range, shooting the ACC’s best three-point percentage at 37.3%. Although the matchup was daunting, Tech currently ranks third in the ACC in rebounds per game while Wake Forest gives up the third-most rebounds per game in ACC. Tech needed to keep Wake Forest off the boards and convert on their second chance opportunities to get the win. 

Unfortunately, the Jackets fell behind early and never recovered. Junior guard Kowacie Reeves Jr.  landed the game’s first score, burying a three-pointer off the assist from fellow junior guard Miles Kelly. However, the Jackets could not hit a shot for nine straight minutes until freshman forward IbrahimaSacko hit a free throw with 10 minutes left in the half. 

On the other end, Wake Forest went on a 23-0 run. It was the definition of an off-night for Tech and Wake Forest capitalized. In the last five minutes of the half, Tech started getting to the line and hitting their jump shots. Freshman guard Naithan George chipped in five points — and the Jacket’s first jump shot — while senior guard Kyle Sturdivant hit a three after George found him on the perimeter. At the end of the half, the Demon Deacons were up 46-20 after completely controlling the game. They held Tech to a miserable 13.79% from the field and 15.38% from three-point range. 

From then on, the rest of the game turned into a rout. Wake Forest established a 61-27 lead with 15 minutes left in the game and coasted for the rest of the game. The final score of 80-51 reflected that the game was over long before the final buzzer but masked the fact that Wake Forest only hit five threes in the game. However, the streak of misses from Tech on the offensive end sunk them. The Demon Deacons also outmatched Tech’s rim protection, scoring 46 points in the paint to Tech’s 24. 

With Tech’s young roster, games like this happen. However, the Jackets needed to prepare for a bounce-back opportunity in the form of a road trip to KFC Yum! Center to take on the Louisville Cardinals. Coming into the game, the Cardinals surrendered the most points in the ACC at 78.2 and held a record of 7-16. This team matched up well with Tech and presented an excellent opportunity for the Jackets to return to form. 

The game began as an offense-optional affair that kept the game at 0-0 until Louisville freshman forward Kaleb Glenn. Fortunately, Kelly answered the dunk with a jumper of his own to tie the game. 

Outside of senior guard Carter Murphy sinking two threes, Kelly scored all of the Jackets’ 30 points in the half amidst a fantastic rebound effort after being held scoreless against Wake Forest. Despite Kelly’s contributions, the combination of Louisville hitting eleven free throws to Tech’s four attempts and overall cold stretches from the Tech offense made the first half tightly contested. 

Neither team pulled away, but Tech ended the half with a slim 32-30 lead thanks to holding Louisville to one three-pointer on ten attempts and a lackluster 32.14% from the field.

In the early part of the second half, the Jackets missed their first five shots, but fortunately the Cardinals had their own offensive woes. After a scoreless first half, exciting freshman forward Baye Ndongo continued to look listless on offense following a head injury sustained against UNC. Ndongo’s recent struggles have correlated with a sudden drop in the Jackets performance, proving how vital the young forward’s presence is. Fortunately, he drove  inside on the pass from Sturdivant and converted the layup to put the Jackets up, 35-32. 

The game swung back and forth before Tech senior forward Tyzhaun Claude hit a jumper, drew contact on Louisville on the next play and sank the subsequent free throw. Sturdivant then found Sacko for the layup before Kelly buried his fifth three-pointer to give Tech a 45-40 lead. Tech found success by putting pressure on the Louisville defense and forcing the Cardinals to foul. Kelly and Sturdivant hit their respective free throws to make it 51-45 before Kelly tacked on his sixth three-pointer to set up a 54-47 Tech lead with 10 minutes left. 

Unfortunately, the Jackets’ defense kept sending Louisville to the charity stripe in quick succession and could not keep the Cardinals from collecting offensive rebounds. 

They paid the price when Louisville redshirt sophomore guard Mike James hit a huge three with six minutes left to cut the lead to 60-58. The Cardinals tied it up on free throws before Glenn threw down a monstrous dunk to give Louisville the 64-62 lead. From there, the Jackets went cold as the Cardinals went on a 15-3 run to clinch the win and send Tech home. 

The loss to Louisville marks a three-game skid for the Jackets. They need to straighten up before taking on the Notre Dame Fighting Irish in an ACC road matchup on Wednesday, Feb. 13 and the Syracuse Orange at home on Feb. 17. 

Notre Dame is currently below Tech in the standings, but the Jackets cannot afford to underestimate any of its opponents. Even so, it is an excellent opportunity to snap their dismal streak.