ATLANTA (AP) — Georgia Tech really wants to earn a first-round bye in the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament for the first time in seven years, and for a long time Saturday night the Yellow Jackets looked like they would lock up that privilege against Miami as they cruised to a 20-point lead in the second half.
And just like that the dream faded but then returned as Jose Alvarado scored nine of his 16 points after intermission and Tech rallied after Miami’s 24-2 run for a 63-57 win, clinching a first-round bye in the ACC tournament for the first time since 2013.
Fellow guard Michael Devoe added 14 points for Tech (15-14, 9-9) and center James Banks III pitched in 13 points and 14 rebounds. Alvarado was 7-of-15 shooting and had seven steals.
Point guard Chris Lykes paced the Hurricanes (14-14, 6-12) with 14 points, but the Tech defense tightened and Miami failed to score over the final 4:08.
The Jackets won their fifth consecutive ACC home game, and also held a conference opponent under 60 points for the fifth straight time in McCamish Pavilion.
“One thing I think we got out of this is we never stopped fighting regardless of what happens. A lot of teams probably would have went down,” Alvarado said. “We don’t want to play on Tuesday (March 10, the first day of the ACC tournament), we keep on saying that.”
Tech’s biggest lead came when Devoe hit a 3-pointer with 15:33 left for a 49-29 edge, but the Hurricanes went on a 24-2 run during a stretch when the Yellow Jackets were plagued by turnovers (six in that time) and a missed alley-oop by Jordan Usher. Tech missed 10 of 11 shots.
Lykes gave Miami leads of 53-51 on a 3-pointer with 7:36 remaining, and 57-55 on a pair of free throws with 4:08 to go.
Banks pushed Tech ahead for good, 58-57, on two free throws with 3:04 left as the Hurricanes missed their last seven shots.
“We still got outrebounded by 15 (48-33), but at least in the second half we were trying to rebound the basketball,” said Miami coach Jim Larranaga. “We were able to take the lead, but they executed much better in the last four minutes than we did.”
The Hurricanes scarcely challenged Tech in the first half, when the Yellow Jackets ran off 13 consecutive points late in the period to take a 40-24 lead. Georgia Tech had a huge 25-13 rebounding advantage, and 14 of the Jackets’ 16 made field goals in the half came in the paint.
Lykes, Miami’s leading scorer, went scoreless until the final minute before intermission, and took just three shots in the half as Tech had a pair of defenders, the 6-foot Alvarado and 5-10 reserve guard Bubba Parham, who were quick enough to stay in front of the Hurricanes’ 5-7 point guard.
It didn’t help that Miami turned the ball over 11 times before halftime, as Alvarado picked up four of his seven steals for Georgia Tech.
Miami: The Hurricanes had to work so hard to overcome that 20-point deficit that they looked gassed over the game’s final four-plus minutes. Miami was often short on shots, and made just 2 of 17 3-pointers while shooting 36.7 percent overall.
Georgia Tech: The Yellow Jackets are in a five-way tie — locked with Notre Dame, North Carolina State, Clemson and Syracuse — for fifth place in the ACC. The top nine teams in the 15-team conference will have first-round byes in the conference tournament, and Tech has clinched a top nine spot at worst.
BIG IN THE MIDDLE
Banks was a force while playing his best game in several weeks. Not only were his 14 rebounds one short of his season and career highs, but his 13 points were his most in seven games. He hit double digits just once in that span, averaging seven points in the previous six. He also fouled out of four of those games. Saturday, he added two blocks and two steals.
“I thought James Banks was really big,” said Tech coach Josh Pastner. “But what turned it around was that we got extra possessions late based on offensive rebounds (Banks had seven of Tech’s 18).”
In addition to five free throws made, Banks had four dunks/layups and Tech made 16 of 21 shots (76%) at the rim to Miami’s 7 of 16 (44%).
Miami: The Hurricanes will play host to Virginia on Wednesday night.
Georgia Tech: The Jackets will play their final home game Wednesday against Pittsburgh.
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