A 14-0 Georgia Tech run put the Yellow Jackets up by 10 points with under four minutes to play. But instead of rolling over, the Wolfpack put together its most inspired stretch of basketball this season. The Pack came back, forced overtime and eventually captured its first ACC win of the season with a 76-71 victory on Saturday afternoon at the RBC Center.
"That was probably one of our best games in terms of just fighting till the end," coach Sidney Lowe said. "They showed a lot of character, a lot of heart. They just didn't give up. Down 10 with five minutes, three minutes to go whatever it was and they just didn't give up."
The Pack ran into adversity multiple times over the final minutes. In addition to overcoming a 10-point deficit, the Pack lost leading scorer Brandon Costner when the forward fouled out with 22 points early in overtime. But Dennis Horner came in for Costner and finished off the game, scoring six of the Pack's final seven points and hitting the game-winning free throws.
"It was good to get that first win," Trevor Ferguson said. "As soon as you get that first win its a much better feeling. Being 0-3 in the conference is not what you want to do. We are 1-2 heading into Duke and we're excited about it."
The win snaps a pair of losing streaks for the Pack (10-5, 1-2 ACC). The team snapped an 11-game losing streak in the conference going back to last year as well as a three-game skid in the current season. The Jackets (9-8, 0-4), meanwhile, dropped its third straight game.
"To get that monkey off your back – we were on a tough losing streak there," McCauley said. "To come in here it showed a lot of character. This team, these guys, when we were down 10 with under five minutes to go guys buckled down and made plays."
Lowe accredited the team's play over the final minutes to its aggressiveness and toughness.
"I told them just be aggressive," Lowe said. "They are aggressive and you have to be even more aggressive. I was trying to pull that toughness out of them and they showed it."
Senior Ben McCauley put together a spectacular all-around performance with 18 points, 10 rebounds and six assists in the win. Coster, McCauley and Trevor Ferguson all scored in double figures, with Ferguson coming of the bench for 11 points on 3-for-5 shooting from behind the 3-point line.
The first half was an ugly affair as bad shots, frequent turnovers and fouls made for a slow offensive pace. The Pack and Jackets stayed neck and neck for most of the half before Georgia Tech pulled out to a six-point advantage late. Trevor Ferguson snapped the Pack out of its deep offensive slump in the final two minutes, drilling two 3-pointers from the left corner on consecutive possession to cut the lead to just a point at the half.
"I just knocked down a couple of shots," Ferguson said. "I was feeling good."
The two teams combined for a incredible 26 first-half turnovers, trading sloppy plays for the first 20 minutes with the Pack giving it away 14 times and the Jackets 12 times. The Pack shot 50 percent compared to just 34 percent for the Yellow Jackets, but Tech lead thanks to its 13 offensive rebounds in the half.
The Pack carried that momentum over in the early parts of the first half, jumping out to a pair of five-point leads only to watch the Jackets hit a big 3-pointer to narrow the gap. Leading 52-47, the defense allowed the Jackets to go on a 17-2 run fueled mostly by the outside shooting of Lewis Clinch. The senior drained four 3-pointers over the stretch, leading a hot shooting Georgia Tech team from outside the arch. But despite their 55 percent shooting from long distance, the Jackets couldn't hit shots when they needed them in the final minutes. Georgia Tech had just one field goal after the four minute mark of the second half.