Originally posted on Fox Sports South  |  Last updated 3/3/13
ATLANTA It's hard to lament the loss of something you never truly owned. And yet, in the wake of its 70-57 home defeat to North Carolina State on Sunday, Georgia Tech undoubtedly feels the sting of surrendering something more than just a hard-fought loss to a quality ACC opponent. In a nutshell, the Yellow Jackets have lost whatever power, or upper hand, they once possessed with the NIT selection committee. With two regular-season games (@ Miami, @ Boston College) and the conference tournament on the remaining docket, Georgia Tech (15-13, 5-11) still has a chance to upgrade its resume for the NIT powers-that-be. But now, without a signature win against the Wolfpack, the Yellow Jackets have painted themselves into a corner, likely needing wins over Miami, Boston College and one or two ACC tourney victories ... or a split against MiamiBoston College and then an upset-filled run to the ACC semifinals to secure a spot in the 32-team NIT field. Anything short of that may be too dicey for a program that's been on shaky footing of late (three losses in four games), and one that lacks the star power to warrant a shoo-in spot for the NIT. After all, within the subjective process of choosing a second wave of tournament teams, especially when a major TV network (ESPN) has influence in the process, these things cannot be understated. These things matter. On Sunday night, the Yellow Jackets' shooting woes (34 percent from the field) and turnovers (15) also mattered against a Wolfpack team that stands at 21-8 (10-6 in ACC play) and maintains a top-25 status in the current RPI rankings. "For various reasons," Georgia Tech struggled to hold onto the ball, said head coach Brian Gregory after the game. "It was an equal-opportunity inability, at times, to handle the ball and make decisions," said Gregory. "And unfortunately, it's a common thread when we haven't played well ... you've got to take care of the basketball." The Yellow Jackets got off to a decent start, forging their largest lead of the game (four points) in the opening minutes. The Wolfpack then countered with a 12-0 spurt, snagging a lead they would never relinquish even though Georgia Tech had numerous chances to knot the score or go ahead in the second half. Within that scope, the 'Pack defense foiled each and every opportunity. "Give credit to N.C. State, they played better than us" and deserved to win, said Gregory, who achingly poured over the two or three possessions in the second half where "we just couldn't get over the hump." Curiously, Georgia Tech took honors in rebounds (42-36), offensive rebounds (16-11), three-pointers made (4-1), three-pointer efficiency and blocks (5-3), and yet, this was always N.C. State's game to lose and eventually win. "I thought the difference was how we defended," said Wolfpack coach Mark Gottfried in the postgame, praising his team's "active hands," and general aggressiveness on the defensive end, whether it entailed disrupting dribble-drive penetration from the Jacket guards, rotating on the baseline and taking away vertical passing lanes. Gregory also noticed N.C. State's focused effort. "When they're dialed in, they're a pretty good defensive team." Georgia Tech's defense, on the other hand, was decent in spots, but not good enough to prevent Richard Howell from dominating the first half (18 points) ... before C.J. Leslie (13 points) and T.J. Warren (14 points) took over in the second stanza. It's "hard to be consistent and constantly build on stuff," says Gregory. "It's just not who we are yet." Existentially speaking, the Yellow Jackets are an odd mix of productive seniors (Daniel Miller, Kammeron Holsey, Mfon Udofia) and precocious freshmen (Robert Carter Jr., Chris Bolden, Marcus Georges-Hunt). They can be rock-solid at times. They can also disappear in long stretches. In other words, things don't always mesh with the two factions ... which might explain how Georgia Tech could tally 57 points without a double-digit scorer. The lack of a go-to presence can be exposed against high-quality competition. In the final analysis, Carter (eight points, four boards) may be Tech's most explosive option. But on this day, he didn't make enough shots or even get enough touches in the post to make a difference in the end. As such, Georgia Tech has been placed in the compromising position of needing a win over vaunted Miami (the likely ACC champion) to recover what was lost in its final home game of the regular season. As a bonus, the schedule-maker didn't do Gregory and the Jackets any favors. They'll travel to south Florida for a 9 p.m. tip on Wednesday ... and then trek north to Boston for a 12 noon tip on Saturday.
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