WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — Georgia Tech kicked the underpinnings from Coach Jeff Bzdelik’s rebuilding efforts at Wake Forest with Saturday’s crushing 79-70 victory at Joel Coliseum.
“It’s a bad loss for us,” Bzdelik said. “We will just have to get back to the practice floor (Sunday) and regroup and keep fighting through this.”
Though just a sophomore, center Devin Thomas felt the full impact of a setback to a Georgia Tech team that had lost six of its previous eight to fall to 12th in the ACC standings.
“It was real damaging,” Thomas said, his eyes glistening from the emotion. “We’re supposed to win the game.”
The Yellow Jackets won partly by replacing their irreplaceable player better than Wake Forest. Both teams lost their leading scorers, Georgia Tech when Trae Golden was sidelined midway through the first half with a pulled groin and the Deacons when Codi Miller-McIntyre sprained his ankle just before halftime.
Bzdelik described Miller-McIntyre’s status as “day-to-day,’’ but Miller-McIntyre vowed to be ready for the Deacons’ next game at Duke on Tuesday.
“I’m going to play at Duke,” he said while signing an autograph outside the locker room.
Travis McKie, a senior forward who kept Wake Forest in the game with a career-best 26 points, said the Deacons could have overcome Miller-McIntyre’s loss with a better effort. Instead the Deacons got off to sluggish starts in both halves, gave up 23 points to Marcus Georges-Hunt, were thumped on the backboards 33-24 and missed 12 of their 15 3-point attempts.
Coron Williams, who entered the game shooting 38 percent from 3-point range, missed all six tries — though one that bounced in was waved off when Tyler Cavanaugh was called for yanking on the net. The bad break was one of many that killed the Deacons’ momentum throughout a long frustrating game.
Wake Forest fell to 14-8 and 4-5 at the halfway point of the ACC schedule. Georgia Tech, which also got 16 points, 14 rebounds, three blocks and three assists from Daniel Miller, improved to 12-10 and 3-6.
Both Bzdelik and Thomas said the Deacons asked for trouble with their sluggish play early in the game. Wake Forest managed to score on just three of its first nine possessions, as Georgia Tech bolted to a 12-6 lead.
Thomas noticed the downtrodden Yellow Jackets gaining confidence play by play.
“Too much confidence,” Thomas said. “Way too much.
“(They were) way too comfortable. I mean they were stepping into threes. They made six in the first half and 11 off second-chance points. We beat ourselves again. We can’t keep doing this. It’s getting old now.”
McKie said the Deacons could never overcome the way the first half ended and the second began. Wake Forest trailed 38-34 when Miller-McIntyre sprained his ankle during a collision with Georges-Hunt with 4.9 seconds left in the half. Coach Brian Gregory of Georgia Tech, given the choice of who would shoot the free throws for the incapacitated Miller-McIntyre, picked Thomas, who shot an air ball on the front end of a one-and-one.
The Yellow Jackets rebounded and Chris Bolden drilled a long 3-pointer at the buzzer for a 41-34 halftime lead. When Georgia Tech scored the first six points of the second half, the Deacons were in a 47-34 hole they could never climb out of.
“Now we’re down (13) and we’re fighting our tail off the rest of the game,” McKie said. “So that was the difference.”
The Deacons made two concerted runs at Georgia Tech that faded on missed 3-pointers.
They had sliced the deficit to 52-45 by the time Williams got his 3-pointer from the right wing to drop. The points went on the scoreboard, apparently paring the lead to four, but official Jamie Luckie conferred with Tim Nestor and the basket was waved off.
Georgia Tech responded with six straight points to extend the lead back to 13.
“I believe it was Tyler who grabbed the net,” Bzdelik said of the explanation given by Luckie.
Though the Deacons trailed 69-59 with 3:44 left, the home crowd began making its presence felt when Arnaud Adala Moto made two free throws, Madison Jones forced a turnover on a five-second call against Corey Heyward, and McKie pulled up and drilled a 3-pointer from the right wing.
With the lead cut to 64-60, Gregory called a timeout with 3:04 remaining. On Wake Forest’s next two possessions, Moto was called for charging and McKie missed an open 3-pointer from the left corner that could have pulled Wake Forest to 69-67.
Instead, Georges-Hunt hit a layup, Thomas threw the inbounds pass away and Kammeon Holsey made two free throws for a 73-64 cushion with only 1:05 remaining.
“I pump-faked,” McKie said of his miss. “I wanted to wait. They didn’t come out, so I shot it.
“That’s one of the hardest shots to make, after a pump fake.”