Tech's Cinderella run ends in a close loss to Loyola Chicago
INDIANAPOLIS- Georgia Tech’s eight-game win streak was snapped in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament on Friday afternoon as Loyola Chicago pulled away late for a 71-60 win over the Yellow Jackets. The clock struck midnight in Hinkle Fieldhouse.
Foul trouble plagued Tech in the first half and the Ramblers' three-point shooting put away Tech in the second half as they hit 11 threes compared to just three for Georgia Tech. Not helping matters was the 16 offensive rebounds given up while Tech had just one offensive rebound late in the game when Loyola Chicago was in total control.
Tech coach Josh Pastner was as always loaded with praise for his adversary in the game Porter Moser the Loyola Chicago coach.
"Let me give great credit to coach Porter Moser and Loyola of Chicago. What a great basketball team. Extremely well-coached. Have really good players. Coach Moser is one of the best coaches in the country. They deserve so much credit. That's a great basketball team we played," he said. "The way Coach Moser has it running, they're going to be building a statue of him at Loyola of Chicago. If they haven't already, I imagine it's going to be in the works sooner or later."
The big story was the one player not on the court for Georgia Tech, senior ACC Player of the Year Moses Wright. Pastner used a combination of Khalid Moore and Rodney Howard in the post against Cameron Krutwig who was held to 10 points. Instead, the Ramblers guards posed the biggest issue with Lucas Williamson, Braden Norris, and Keith Clemson each hitting more threes than Tech’s entire team apiece. Williamson led all scorers with 21 points and four threes. Norris had 16 points and four threes.
"Our team, Georgia Tech, I'm so proud of our young men. We've had an incredible year, have accomplished things in the last two years in ACC play that's never been accomplished at Georgia Tech, things that hadn't been done in 30 years, 20 years, the last two years in the ACC of what we've done. I'm just so proud of our young men," Pastner said. "It was tough not playing with Moses, right? Not easy to lose your ACC Player of the Year. I feel so bad for that young man. Think about it, he's worked so hard, a chance of a lifetime to play in the NCAA tournament, and unfortunately, he's not able to play. I feel sick for him. I just feel sick for him. That's obviously a big loss when you're not having the ACC Player of the Year that you've depended on and counted on."
Pastner said not having Wright and the emotions of that for the team and the coaching staff loomed large ahead of the game.
"The swing of emotions from winning the championship on Saturday to the swing of emotions of finding out the test results, then the swing of emotions from every single test making sure that we can even get to this game. I can't even express the pressure and the swing of high to low. It was overwhelming at times because you don't," he said. "You know how sick I felt for Moses Wright, for him not to be able to play today? Obviously thank God everything is okay. It's just he loses that opportunity. That's how fine of a line it is because of COVID."
Senior point guard Jose Alvarado was in tears during his post-game press conference. He wore Wright's #5 jersey to honor him in his absence and he talked about trying to fill that void on the court.
“It didn’t end the way we wanted to, but these guys that I played with I’m going to miss them no matter what the situation is. I’m so happy I get to call them my brothers and the worst pain is I was going out there to win it for Mo. That’s my brother and we’ve been here for four years and he is the one guy who stood by me when things got rough and certain people left, he stood by my side the whole time. For us, we fought, they are a good team who made big-time shots, but for us not to get this win, it hurts. Moses was a big part of this team, but I’m happy that Khalid, Rodney, and Bubba all stepped up, but we sure did miss Mo,” Alvarado said.
Alvarado said it was an easy decision to change his jersey to honor Wright in his absence.
“When I found out I was hurt for Moses and I was hurt for the team. We knew what we had to do and we had to stay positive and fight hard. Loyola Chicago is a good team who stepped up and made big shots, but we kept in contact with Mo, he is in great spirits. What can you say to a guy who worked his butt off and can’t play in the Big Dance. It is hard to say anything. I love my team and Mo and it was one helluva ride,” Alvarado said.
Loyola had 15 free throw attempts to Tech’s five in the game and nine fouls compared to Tech’s 19. Pastner declined to comment on the somewhat inconsistent officiating that often favored his opposition.
Loyola won the game on the offensive glass with 13 offensive rebounds as well. Tech had just 17 total rebounds.
They have so many strengths, Georgia Tech," Loyola coach Porter Moser said. "We said one of them we really wanted to go to the glass if they were going to go small. Lucas went, Marquise (Kennedy) got a big one. We were really making a point of that, if they were going to go small, we were going to try to go to the glass and get some more. I thought our guys did a good job of that, get some extra possessions for us with that."
Seniors Jordan Usher and Jose Alvarado stepped up with 15 and 13 points each while Mike Devoe added 14 points for Tech. Losing Wright’s 17 points per game loomed large.
Georgia Tech battled back midway through the second half behind a 9-0 run to retake the lead capped by a Jose Alvarado three-pointer to go up 39-37. At the under 12-timeout Loyola had tied it back up at 43-all. Loyola hit a three out of the TV timeout to go up 46-43 with 11 minutes to go. Loyola extended the lead to seven, but Tech fought back cutting it to 3, 50-47 before Keith Clemons hit a three to make it 53-47 with eight minutes to go. Loyola pulled away after that.
Moser said his team adjusted to Tech's zone in the second half and also got hot from outside which helped a lot.
"We were just trying to see their slides at first. What you see on tape sometimes isn't what happens in the game. Teams make adjustments. Then really extending their tandem, taking away," Moser said of Tech's defense. "We were trying to get to the middle, but they were bringing the wings up high. As we went on we got the ball into the middle better. When we got it into the middle, we were spraying it for more threes. We knew we were going to get some threes off of it if we got to the second and third side. A couple of times came out of a timeout, pounded it into Krut. They're athletic, 6'6", 6'7" down there, when they're trying to front them at times. They're long in the zone, they play hard. The thing about it, I said this before, what I saw on tape. I'm going to pull out my Coach Majerus reference. It wasn't just your 'Hands Up Harry' zone. It was very aggressive, trying to get steals. You put them on the deck, they're digging and raking, high hands, looking for deflections, taking away passing lanes. It's a very active zone. There's a reason why they force so many turnovers. I think we got settled into it. We haven't seen one like that all year. Settled into it, got the ball in the middle, then you make some shots. That always helps, too."
Georgia Tech trailed 30-25 at the half as Loyola Chicago went on a 13-2 run with the aid of several controversial calls against Jordan Usher for the Jackets. Usher picked up his second foul on a clean screen where a Rambler player flopped and his third on an offensive rebounding attempt where he jumped into the same space as Krutwig. Each of those fouls led to a run for Loyola Chicago. To show the importance of Usher, GT is +5 with him on the court in the first half, he was the only Tech player with a positive +/- in the first half.
Tech shot 52.2-percent from the half but had an uncharacteristic six turnovers and zero free throw attempts. Loyola Chicago shot 48-percent but had four threes and five offensive rebounds against the undersized Jackets leading to seven second-chance points. The Jackets had zero second-chance points in the first half.
Looming over all of this is the potential for Pastner to keep this unit intact for next year. Seniors Jose Alvarado, Moses Wright, Jordan Usher, and Bubba Parham are all eligible to return due to covid rules making this a free year for every college basketball player.
Alvarado was open to the idea of coming back for one more run in 2021-22.
“I tried to soak it all in and who knows, we will probably come back here,” Alvarado said. “I don’t have a direct answer yes or no, it is in my mind. I have to soak everything in and talk with my family and go from there.”
Looking back, Alvarado said it has been an amazing trip at Tech.
“It was a fun journey, these guys trusted me and I trusted them," Alvarado said. Coach Pastner put the ball in my hands as a freshman and told me to get the job done. I don’t know if I did or not, but he trusted me and so did my teammates from the jump. Georgia Tech changed my life and it was one helluva ride. I love the fans and the program and they’ve changed my future,” Alvarado said. “I’m proud to be a part of this program.”
The ACC Championship will always be something remembered and Alvarado said that is a big thing for this program under coach Pastner.
“I don’t care about the doubters they can keep doubting whatever, this program is special. We did things, people didn’t believe in us. It sucks right now, but it doesn’t take away what we did. The ACC is a very hard conference and we can say we are champs. We had bigger things on our minds, but things happen in life. We fell short today, but that doesn’t change the fact that we are ACC Champs and did a lot of good things this season,” Alvarado said.
Each player will make their decision in the coming weeks, but Pastner said he was optimistic they would consider it.
"I'm just so proud of these guys. I teared up, broke down in the locker room. I actually thanked each guy and everyone on staff, just thanked them for what they've done and how grateful I am and honored and privileged and blessed to have been able to coach this group, been around these guys, both players, and staff. Just I love every single one of them. I can't express my gratitude enough for these young men," Pastner said. "Obviously the NCAA has allowed the seniors to come back. Will they come back? I don't know. As we get back home, kind of decompress, recenter, and get refocused, we'll be able to have those conversations and decide what the guys want to do, then go from there. But I'm forever grateful and so thankful for these young men."
Tech's season ends with a 17-9 record and an ACC Championship banner as well as the first NCAA Trip since the 2009-10 season for the Yellow Jackets.