Greensboro, N.C. — —Everyone counted Georgia Tech out, but all they did was band together and won the ACC Championship.
Jose Alvarado couldn’t contain his emotions, as the game ended, his Georgia Tech teammates jumped on each other near half-court.
”Coach, you’re a champion, man!” Alvarado screamed when he joined him for an TV interview with balloons and confetti falling from the rafters.
The Yellow Jackets beat No. 15 Florida State 80-75 in Saturday night’s championship game at the Greensboro Coliseum Complex. With the win, they’ve punched their ticket to the NCAA Tournament and ended an 11-year drought to the big dance.
”A lot of emotions: joy, happiness, everything,” said Michael Devoe, the tournament MVP. ”I mean, this goes down in history for us.”
Devoe poured in 20 points for the fourth-seeded Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets (17-8), who shot 52% after halftime and capitalized on the miscues by Florida State to win their first ACC Tournament crown since 1993 and fourth overall.
The Seminoles shot 56% from the floor, 53.3% from three-point range and out-rebounded the Jackets 36-24 but couldn’t get out their own way.
By contrast, the Yellow Jackets shot just 43.5% from the floor and 21.7% from downtown, but turned it over just seven times in the first.
Scottie Barnes scored 21 points on 8-for-10 shooting for Florida State, which shot 56% but turned the ball over 25 times that led to 31 points for GT. He also had four boards and three assists.
From the tip off, GT’s stifling defense impacted the Seminoles’ ball control. FSU turned the ball over on each of its first four possessions and finished the first half with 14 turnovers.
Despite the turnover numbers, the Seminoles kept the game close throughout, never trailing by more than six points until the closing minute of the contest.
”Our guys have just scrapped, fought, kicked, clawed – whatever they had to do to find a way to get wins this year,” GT coach Josh Pastner said. ”And I’m just so darn proud of these young men.”
GT pressured the ball from the start which had FSU bobbling passes and deflecting in the throwing lanes, that threw the whole offense out of sync. The 25 turnovers fell one shy of tying a tournament title-game record since the league began keeping stats in 1961, while Georgia Tech’s 15 steals – five by Alvarado – was a title-game record since the league began charting it in 1976.
Anthony Polite gave the FSU their first lead of the game by getting three points the hard way with a lay-up while being fouled and knocked down a free throw to give the ‘Noles a two-point lead. Florida State held a 10-8 lead at the under-12 media timeout.
Barnes knotted the game up at 27, converting a and-one on a floater just outside the paint area. FSU took the lead back on another Barnes bucket, as he hit a wide-open trey. The Yellow Jackets went into break with a 31-30 lead after a buzzer-beating lay-up from Devoe.
Barnes came up with a huge offensive board and dunk out of the timeout, but the Jackets continued to trim away at the lead. Usher hit his first three on the next possession. Two free throws from Kyle Sturdivant tied the game at 46 with 10:45 remaining in the game. A steal and score by Alvarado put Georgia Tech back up. Free throws from Koprivica and Gray squashed a 7-0 Jacket run and tied the contest at 48. Walker and Wright traded buckets to send the game to the under-8 media timeout knotted at 50.
Two free throws from Wright gave GT the lead out of the break. Walker tied the game back up on a wide-open bucket off a nice move in the paint. The Yellow Jackets answered with a Devoe three. An Alvarado bucket extended the lead to four points after Gray made one of two free throws. Two Usher free throws pushed the lead to six points with 4:30 remaining. Walker hit another crucial shot, swishing a wide-open, long corner trey. At the last media timeout of the contest, GT led 61-58.
Alvarado knocked down a pair of shots with nine seconds left after shaking off a hard fall, which had come right after Barnes’ long 3-pointer putting FSU 76-73.
The Seminoles continued to commit turnovers against Tech’s zone defense, and the Yellow Jackets seized command with a 27-11 run. FSU turned the ball over seven times during that stretch alone. Georgia Tech just closed the game out with their stellar defense.
“We’ve been a team that really has seemed to always light up when we see a zone defense,” FSU coach Leonard Hamilton said. “But for whatever reason tonight, we played with a lot of — we played a lot like we were unsure of our cuts. We were unsure in our decision making as we attacked their zone defense. The uncertainty with which we executed I thought led us to a lot of turnovers.
Entering the NCAA Tournament, FSU has turned the ball over at least 17 times in four of its last five games.
FSU sophomore center Balsa Koprivica took over in the blocks against the Yellow Jackets.
Taking advantage of a team that has no player taller than 6-foot-10, the 7-foot-1 center had 11 points and 10 rebounds. But his play alone couldn’t get it done against the surging Yellow Jackets.
Five different GT players had at least two steals, led by ACC Defensive Player of the Year Jose Alvarado who had five steals.
“Obviously we’re extremely disappointed,” Hamilton said. “Your hat goes off to a team that — Georgia Tech was extremely scrappy. They kind of showed you what intensity and sound defensive principles looks like.”
Both Florida State and Georgia Tech will find out their NCAA Tournament seeding Sunday.