At one end of the court, they guarded the right guy at the wrong time. At the other end, a freshman guard and not the senior who got them here took the final shot, only to see the ball bounce off the rim.
Maybe you believed (or hoped) that the unpredictable nature of college basketball in March and the most unlikely results of all – Georgia’s tornado-aided run last year in the SEC – set up nicely for another late-season miracle, this time by Georgia Tech.
But not this season. Not this team. Some teams in some seasons aren’t just meant to take their fans on emotional roller coasters. Some, like this year’s Yellow Jackets, just are meant to fall short early and use that as a template for the entire year.
“Every once in a while you’d like to see a pass get tipped or something,” Tech coach Paul Hewitt said Friday. “You’d like to see somebody on the other team miss a free throw or a jump shot. It just didn’t happen to us this year.”
The Jackets lost to Florida State, 64-62. They won one game in the ACC tournament. That’s only one less victory than they had in the conference all season, so maybe we shouldn’t be too greedy.
Tech finished 12-19, its most losses since going 4-23 in 1981. Hewitt called it one of his most “personally frustrating” seasons. But he praised his players’ effort, as he had done most of the season.
His most difficult year? “No,” he said, reserving that distinction for the 2005-06 team, whose effort he questioned. “Nobody had ever questioned how hard my teams played,” Hewitt said. “That year, they did. That bothered me. They said, ‘Your team is soft.’ That was the worst year I ever had.”
Problem is, this is where we are now at Tech: comparing bad seasons. Having missed the NCAA tournament three of the past four years, Hewitt isn’t revered by a segment of the fan base the same way he was during the 2004 Final Four run.
He denies ever feeling heat. He said “three out of every four” comments or letters he receives are positive. So I’m just guessing that most of the other 25 percent are the ones e-mailing me. That said, he has one of the nation’s top recruiting classes coming in next season, so it would have been foolish and shortsighted to make a change.
Even so, the win over Clemson on Thursday probably provided some needed relief. Beating Florida State and advancing to today’s semis against North Carolina would’ve bordered on Utopia.
They came close. Again.
Zach Peacock’s baseline jumper gave Tech a 62-61 lead with 29 seconds left. FSU answered, but not the way Hewitt expected. Before an inbounds play with 7.7 seconds left, he had the Jackets focus almost solely on the Seminoles’ best player, Toney Douglas. But it was Derwin Kitchen who took the inbounds pass, cut to the basket and scored on a reverse lay-up. An ensuing free throw made the score 64-62.
Hewitt said, “I second-guess myself,” for not spending more time addressing other inbounds scenarios with his players.
The Jackets tried to come back. But Iman Shumpert drove the lane when he was unable to pass out to Lewis Clinch (who had 57 points in two tournament games), and his shot was off the mark.
Looking for answers amid the losing, Hewitt recently phoned a friend on the staff of Notre Dame coach Mike Brey. “He went through something like this a few years ago,” Hewitt said. “They were losing every game at the buzzer. I was just curious. How did he not lose his mind? He said to just stay positive.”
He did that. His temperament never changed. But neither did the losing.