Jackets triumph on Senior Night

Photo by Catey Thurston, Student Publications

The Jackets’ victory on Senior Day over the Florida State University (FSU) Seminoles on Saturday was the fairytale ending to the last men’s basketball regular season home game of the year. Jacket fans packed McCamish Pavilion, showing out in droves to watch Tech’s final game on home turf as the team put up an astounding 85 points to the Seminoles’ respective 76, defeating them by a nine-point margin. 

As the clock struck noon, a competitive FSU won the tip-off and drove towards the basket for their first points in anticipation of the easy bucket. However, Tech swiftly denied them. The Jackets took the ball the other way and converted after an easy two from freshman forward starter Baye Ndongo. Within less than two minutes, the other freshman starter, freshman guard Naithan George, made it an easy four-nil, giving the Jackets an early lead. 

With eight minutes to go in the half, the Noles tied it up 25-25 with a three from deep, leaving the next two minutes into a desperate frenzy with both teams looking for a first leg up. However,  a three from the corner from none other than junior guard Miles Kelly, reinforced by another two from junior guard Kowacie Reeves Jr., put the Jackets back on track. 

Reeves rushed back to defend the net with five minutes to go, and a huge airborne swipe sent the ball straight to sophomore forward Tafara Gapare who took it right to the glass for a quick two points. The Jackets closed out the first half, leading 44-41. They carried that momentum into the second half, especially on defense. Across the second half, the Jackets put on a massive defensive performance by limiting the Seminoles to 35 points while the Jackets tacked on another 41 to close the game.

The real climb was only getting started as the Jackets blazed into the second half, where their speed and game would gain altitude. The momentum coming in from the first half took a moment to build, but by the last nine minutes of the game, the Jackets were up by 10 and looking to hold their commanding
advantage till the buzzer. 

A huge dunk by Gapare at the four-minute mark had the crowd on their feet, letting the Jackets sail away with a 16-point advantage. Within the minute, Gapare was back defending from a Nole press and lit up the crowd once again with a thunderous block, denying FSU’s revival. 

Senior guard Kyle Sturdivant put up his second 20-point game of the season for his final dance, with his four 3-pointers matching a career high and giving him his fourth straight game with double-digit points. 

Ndongo trailed Sturdivant in points by securing 15 points and 14 rebounds, his second-best rebound total only trailing his season-best of 19 in December. George also had a 15-point game, his first double digit points tally in six games. 

The fight ran deep through this ACC faceoff, with the Seminoles being known for forcing the highest rate of turnovers in the ACC (20.3%). However, in the true Jacket spirit, Tech rounded off the game with the second-lowest turnover rate of the season by an FSU opponent. Tech had the second most rebounds in program history with 55, the record being set in 1996 against FSU with 56.

Three players (guard Sturdivant,  forward Tyzhaun Claude and guard Carter Murphy) and three managers (Alex Gaynor, Ankith “A.K.” Kodali and Wyatt Pangan) were all honored during the Senior ceremony before tipoff for their contributions to Tech basketball. The conclusion of the regular season also marks the end of head coach Damon Stoudamire’s first season with the Jackets. With one game to go, Stoudamire and his squad still have the opportunity to improve their win-loss ratio from the 2022-23 season. 

Tech will round off their regular season games on Saturday, March 9, against the Virginia Cavaliers after handing Wake Forest their first home loss of the season in a massive upset earlier this week on Tuesday, March 5.