In a heartbreaking finale to a disappointing season, Tech’s men’s basketball team crashed out of the ACC tournament with an opening round loss to Louisville on March 8.
The game started well in Brooklyn’s Barclays Center with the Jackets claiming a 9-3 lead in the first four minutes. This lead would quickly evaporate, and Louisville went on a furious 42-19 run over the rest of the first half to push the Jacket season to the brink.
The halftime reset did little to stem the tide of the game, and Louisville would swell their lead to 27 with 12 minutes left in the second half.
However, just as the season’s end appeared all but certain, an extraordinary stretch of play would swing the game right back. The Tech offense suddenly roared to life on the backs of senior guards Jordan Usher and Michael Devoe, who scored 19 and 15 points respectively, and freshman Miles Kelly adding 19 points of his own. Moreover, the defense, which had been struggling all game to defend Louisville’s size and perimeter play, generated several turnovers and grabbed crucial boards to the tune of a 28-6 run that included 19 unanswered points. In a game that seemed all but lost, Tech whittled the deficit to within single digits with just three minutes left.
Unfortunately, it was here that the rally would fizzle out. With the Cardinals holding a slim 73-68 lead, Louisville’s Jarrod West hit threes on back to back possessions to suck the life out of the Tech fightback. The Jackets only recorded another five points the rest of the way en route to an 84-74 loss, and the defending ACC champions bowed out of the tournament.
The game marked the end of a season that fell short of preseason expectations. Despite losing key stars Jose Alvarado and Moses Wright from last year’s ACC champions squad, many predicted coach Josh Pastner would lead the team on another competitive run.
However, right from the outset of ACC play, it was clear this season would not reach the same levels of success as the previous one. The offense, which ranked near the top of the conference in most metrics in the 2020-21 season, regressed to well below league average this year. The lack of experienced ball handling and scoring options outside of Devoe and Usher handicapped the Jackets significantly, and while the team played well in spurts, they found themselves unable to maintain the consistency required to string together wins.
Injuries played a critical role in the team’s play as well. Senior Bubba Parham, sophomore Deivon Smith, and junior Rodney Howard, among others, missed significant time at different points during the season, meaning that the team was never able to establish any continuity in its lineups and players were often forced to play out of position.
Ultimately, the team’s 12-20 season record is the worst under Coach Pastner’s tenure, while their 5-15 mark in ACC play ranked second to last in the conference. After two straight years of posting winning records in the ACC, the team’s return to the cellar of the conference is definitely a disappointing reality.
Nevertheless, the 2021-22 Tech men’s basketball team will go down as one that fought relentlessly, regardless of the situation, and the last game of the season perfectly epitomizes that quality.
The heat will be on Pastner to right the ship quickly, and the playmaking and energy of Devoe and Usher will be tough to replace. However, with players like Kelly, Smith, and freshman Deebo Coleman showing glimpses of their talent at various points this year, there is a lot to look forward to in future seasons as the young talent progresses.