UPDATED, 11:28 p.m. It was not the sort of win that Georgia Tech will relish. It was the sort of win the Yellow Jackets will gratefully accept.
With McCamish Pavilion tensed up with the prospect of a big upset, Tech pulled out a 73-66 win over UNC Wilmington Saturday night. Freshman forward Robert Carter and guard Marcus Georges-Hunt provided the heroics, combining for nine consecutive points that pulled Tech out of a 62-57 deficit and into a 66-62 lead with 2:33 to play. The Jackets withstood the Seahawks for the remainder.
“I’m not pleased with the way we played, but I’m pleased with the way we finished,” coach Brian Gregory said. “Our execution in the last five minutes was exceptional, both defensively and offensively.”
Carter and Georges-Hunt scored 19 and 10 points, respectively, to lead Tech. Georges-Hunt managed his contributions despite playing with foul trouble much of the second half.
Tech improved to 6-2, the first time Tech has been four games above .500 since the 2009-10 season, coach Paul Hewitt’s second-to-last season. The Seahawks, a member of the Colonial Athletic Association, fell to 4-5.
The Seahawks “probably did enough things during this game to win the game,” coach Brian Gregory said.
The comeback win provided a noteworthy first for Gregory in his second season at Tech. It was the first time that the Jackets won after trailing at the five-minute mark. They were 0-21 up to this point.
Gregory gave the team credit for its response in the final five minutes, urged by a frantic home crowd.
Said Gregory, “We probably would not have won this game last year.”
UNC Wilmington entered the with an RPI ranking of No. 244, according to realtimerpi.com, almost 200 spots below Tech. It mattered little to the Seahawks. They fell behind by nine points in the first half and ended up going into halftime up 36-35. Tech ran out to an eight-point lead (45-37) with 16:33 remaining, but the Seahawks scored 10 of the next 12 points to even it up at 47 with 12:08 to go on a baseline jumper by Chris Dixon.
“We need to be a gritty, tough, blue collar-type team to be successful,” Gregory said. “Sometimes, when things are easy on offense, we tend to kind of play in a different flow than that.”
The Seahawks eventually went up by five points, 62-57, on a 3-pointer by Nate Anderson, a 6-foot-10 forward who was playing in only his third game of the season.
“That’s how it goes sometimes when you give a team like that an edge,” Carter said. “When they start to get their confidence up, all kind of crazy stuff starts to go in.”
Gregory’s biggest peeve in the game was likely the perimeter defense, which allowed the Seahawks to drop nine of 20 3-point attempts. Dixon and Tanner Milson were a combined 7-for-15 from beyond the 3-point arc.
“We were late getting to (Milson) a couple times, but they stretched us on their ball-screen stuff,” Gregory said. “We’ve got to keep working on our coverages on that because with our big guys’ athletic ability and size, we should be much better. I was not pleased with our guards in defending that.”
Milson and Dixon stuck it to the Jackets at critical times. On the last possession of the first half, Milson tracked down his own missed 3-pointer to bank a jump shot with time running out to give the Seahawks their first lead of the game, 36-35. Dixon later provided the aforementioned game-tying jumper at 12:08.
After Carter put the Jackets back up 49-47, Milson hit a 3-pointer to put UNC Wilmington back ahead at 50-49 with 10:43 to play for the Seahawks’ first lead of the half. Over the next five minutes, Milson and Dixon hit 3-pointers to twice give the Seahawks 4-point leads.
Tech, though, showed determination and poise in its strong close. The Jackets scored 16 of the final 20 points of the game.
Georges-Hunt scored all 10 of his points in the final 8:35 despite picking up his third foul at 7:48 and his fourth at 5:12. He made a big four-point play by hitting a 3-pointer at 8:35 on a pass from Mfon Udofia while getting fouled.
“I thought that, as a freshman, to have the confidence to take that shot and knock that down, he showed a lot,” Gregory said. “He had not played well up to that point.”
Georges-Hunt was going up with it as soon as Udofia sent the ball his way.
“I was telling myself I had to knock it down,” he said.
Carter played the best game of his young career, scoring a team-high 19 points on 12 shots to go with nine rebounds and a pair of steals. In a 72-second span, Carter tied the score at 62 with a free throw, put Tech ahead 64-62 on a putback of a Brandon Reed miss and then pushed the lead to 66-62 with a dunk on a fast break after Georges-Hunt threw the all ahead after a steal by Reed.
“I’ve just got to continue to work,” Carter said. “A good week of practice, just continue to work. I know I’m a good player, so it’s going to come.”
For the fifth consecutive game, Tech was outrebounded. The Jackets are 3-2 in those games. In the first half, UNC Wilmington outrebounded Tech 20-13, including seven offensive rebounds of its 16 missed field-goal attempts in the first half.
“Sometimes you emphasize stuff and you talk about it,” Gregory said. “Now we’ve got to go out there and do it.”
With final exam week coming up, Tech will not play until Dec. 17, against Alabama State at McCamish.
The announced attendance was 5,982.
Ken Sugiura, Georgia Tech blog