NC State is near the bottom of the ACC standings, but this was an absolute must-win for the Yellow Jackets. They came into this game with their postseason hopes on life support and came out with the tough road win. Wins like this one have been out of Georgia Tech's reach the last couple of seasons and they need to seize the momentum and get more wins like this if they want to keep playing into March.
This game felt just like many other games this season. The Jackets played great in the first half, pulling away in the last couple minutes to bring a 14 point lead into the locker room. But early in the second half, the Wolfpack started chipping away at the lead as the Yellow Jackets went cold from the floor. The Wolfpack got the lead down to 1 with about 11 minutes left and every Georgia Tech fan started having flashbacks to every other ACC game this season. But instead of following the familiar path, the Yellow Jackets started pulling away again, led by fantastic play from Marcus Georges-Hunt. They took a double digit lead into the final minutes before NC State started to foul. Georgia Tech missed a couple of free throws and the Wolfpack hit a couple threes and it looked like it was going to be a close one, but Georgia Tech started making their free throws and the desperation shots stopped falling for the Wolfpack. Road wins are tough against anybody especially when you lose momentum, but the Yellow Jackets were able to turn it around and walk away with a big win.
Marcus-Georges Hunt is a beast. He is one of the best players I've ever seen at finishing through contact. He has carried this team so much this year when the offense starts to get stagnant and he certainly did his part today. He scored 26 points on 17 shots from the field including several clutch plays down the stretch. Once again he was perfect from the line, shooting 9-9. He wasn't the only one hitting free throws. The starting lineup went an astonishing 23-23 on free throws. The team as a whole shot 29-34, good for 85.1% from the line. Hitting the free throws secured the win in a game that this team may have lost last year. Nick Jacobs seems to be getting back on track offensively as he dominated the Wolfpack interior on his way to 20 points on 8-14 shooting. Adam Smith hit four three-pointers early but struggled shooting from deep the rest of the way out, but still contributed 20 points on 5-12 from the field. Charles Mitchell was strong on the boards and got several easy putbacks for 11 points and 10 rebounds.
Anthonty "Cat" Barber is the top scorer in the ACC and it's easy to see why. He was not 100% healthy this game and he still put a ridiculous 36 points on 13-27 shooting. On the other hand, this team is not very deep. Of the six other players who played, only two topped 5 points. The big man Abdul-Malik Abu was very strong on the boards with 6 offensive rebounds and had 22 points on 9-18 from the field. However, he had 6 turnovers and a technical foul which hampered his production. Maverick Rowan didn't score any points until late in the second half but he hit several three-pointers late to give him 13 points. NC State just did not have the firepower outside of Barber to keep up with a Georgia Tech offense that was playing as well as it has in quite a while.
This win keeps Georgia Tech's faint postseason hopes alive, and a win at Syracuse would go a long way to bringing them back into the conversation. The Jackets are 2-5 in the ACC, but have played one of the most difficult schedules so far. As they hit an easier stretch they need to win games against the lower tier teams. Syracuse has looked better since Boeheim has been back, but have lost convincingly against the upper tier ACC teams and only boast wins against lowly BC, Wake Forest, and a Duke team that has lost 4 of their last five. This game will be played on Saturday at noon at the Carrier Dome. Then, the Blue Devils are coming to McCamish on Tuesday at 9 pm.