Holding a lead into the final minutes, the Pack couldn't hang on as Georgia Tech came from behind to grab a 57-54 win over the Pack and advance to the ACC Championship game against Duke. The Jackets grabbed the lead with three minutes left and managed to hit just enough free throws to hang on, ending an improbable run the No. 11 seeded Pack.
"Over the last four or five ball games we've played these guys have gotten better, they've gotten smarter," Lowe said. "I'm really proud of them – we just had a couple of areas we didn't do well in today."
The Pack now awaits its postseason fate, as the team will find out Sunday night if it did enough to garner an NIT bid. The Pack has not played in a postseason tournament since Lowe's first season when the Pack lost to West Virginia in the quarterfinals of the NIT.
"I certainly feel we deserve it, no question," Lowe said. "We've shown that we are capable with playing with the best teams in the country."
"It would be great for these guys – showing them once again that the hard work they put in is continuing to pay off."
The Pack's demise was largely a result of its inability to make shots as the team made just 30 percent of its shot and was only 6-of-26 from behind the 3-point line. The Pack defense allowed Georgia Tech to hit 44 percent of its looks but also created 16 turnovers, one of the largest reasons why the Pack was able to attempt a game-tying 3-pointer at the buzzer that came up short.
"They understand now that there is more than one way to win a game when your offense isn't going," Lowe said. "With defense and getting some opportunities. It tells me that we certainly have grown."
Tracy Smith led the offense as the only player in double figures with 15 points on 6-of-13 shooting. Javi Gonzalez added nine points and five rebounds and had only two turnovers, but committed a costly intentional foul late in the game to turn a three-point deficit into six.
"We were just trying to make plays to get back in the game because we had just lost the lead," Gonzalez said. "We were trying to scramble and do anything, but obviously you turn the ball over at a critical moment and he was about to score so I just fouled him."
The beginning of the game was a struggle for the Pack offense, a situation made worse when Smith picked up his second foul with 14:43 left in the half. Without Smith the Jackets were able to dominate the interior, helping the No. 7 seed go on a 9-0 run. That run spurred Lowe to take a gamble, putting Smith back in the game with 10 minutes still left before halftime. Smith didn't pick up his third foul, but the Pack didn't put much of a dent in the Tech lead either. Georgia Tech finished the half with a 5-0 run to take a 29-19 lead into the locker room.
The Pack couldn't find the basket in the half, shooting a paltry 30 percent and going a ghastly 1-for-12 from behind the 3-point line. Georgia Tech managed to shoot 42 percent and hit 2-of-5 from 3-point range, but the Pack did force eight turnovers against the Jackets while coughing the ball up only four times on its end of the court. The Pack's ability to hang onto the ball kept the first half from becoming a blow-out.
"I know we didn't play smart in the first half," Lowe said. "We made a lot of bad decisions – on shot selections, on some of our passes, on some of our defensive reads. We just weren't sharp mentally."
But as bad as the Pack was in the first, they came out of the locker room looking like a different ball club. The Pack hit four threes in the first five minutes of the half, turning a 10-point deficit into a 3-point lead. For the next 10 minutes, the Pack clung to the smallest of leads until a Derrick Favors jumper with three minutes left gave the Jackets the advantage again.
Once Georgia Tech regained the lead, the Pack offense fell apart. A shot clock violation, followed by a steal and a technical foul on Gonzalez turned a one-point lead into a six-point lead in just a few moments. The Jackets made their free throws down the stretch, and the Pack's dream of an ACC title came to an end.