Georgia Tech crumbles late in home loss

ATLANTA — Here are four things we gleaned from Georgia Tech’s 56-54 home defeat to Florida State on Tuesday night:

1. The Yellow Jackets had no answer for Michael Snaer during crunch time

With the final seconds ticking down and the score deadlocked at 54, Snaer (game-high 15 points) shook off a rough start to Florida State’s last posssession, evading three defenders near halfcourt. Then, with about six seconds left, Snaer bypassed a pick-and-roll opportunity and glided through the paint for a layup off the high glass — just milli-seconds before the buzzer sounded.

It was the perfect capper for an All-ACC performer (Snaer) who willed his team to a last-second victory — and 5-4 mark in league play — for the third time this season. On the flip side, it was a setback for a Georgia Tech squad desperately seeking consistency, and ultimately, more respect from conference foes.

In his postgame address, Yellow Jackets coach Brian Gregory said he ideally wanted his defense to force the ball out of Snaer’s hands on the final play. But with a pair of freshmen occupying the perimeter, that plan quickly fell through. Eventually, Snear found a straight-line opening to finishing glory.

“(Snaer) is a big-time player, and he made all the plays in the end,” said Gregory, who later added that, for his young players, “sometimes, experience only teaches you in the end.”

2. Short of winning the ACC tournament next month, Georgia Tech has played its way out of an NCAA tourney berth

The above statement is hardly a revelation, but relevant nonetheless.

Even if the Yellow Jackets (2-7 in ACC play) had pulled out a victory, they still would have a steep climb to The Big Dance. So, it’s not like anyone was operating under the delusion of NCAA glory before the FSU clash.

(The NIT, however, is very much in play.)

With a 12-9 overall record and RPI somewhere in the early 120s, it would take Georgia Tech something like 10 or 11 conference wins — including significant upsets of Miami, North Carolina and/or North Carolina State — to garner serious consideration for a tourney berth.

With Tuesday’s loss, Georgia Tech’s margin of error has been reduced to zero — including the ACC tournament in Greensboro. That’s a lot to ask of a club which couldn’t produce one double-digit scorer against Florida State. (Daniel Miller and Brandon Reed had nine points apiece.)

“Give (Florida State) credit. They deserved to win the game. They wanted it more than us,” said Gregory.

3. Guards Mfon Udofia and Marcus Georges-Hunt had their share of struggles in the end

With 41.9 seconds left and the score tied, the Yellow Jackets huddled before their final possession. With a full shot clock and an inbounds pass at halfcourt, the stage was seemingly set for Udofia (six points, four assists) or Georges-Hunt (eight points) to get to the rim or create an open look for their teammates — after draining some time.

But coming off an early high screen, Udofia pivoted and forced a long 3-pointer that was easily rebounded by Florida State. At the 1:02 mark, Udofia had tied the score at 54 with a straight-ahead 3-pointer that caromed off the glass before going in — sending the McCamish Pavilion crowd into a momentary frenzy.

The unbelievable shot, in hindsight, might have given Udofia (3-for-9 shooting night) a false feeling of security on his final attempt from long range, which harmlessly clanged off the rim and into the arms of the Seminoles.

A few minutes earlier, with the score tied at 47, Georges-Hunt got fouled while attempting a three-point shot. But he missed all three free throws — a crucial momentum swing that was exacerbated by Snaer’s 3-pointer from the right side with 4:36 left.

Had Georges-Hunt connected on the free throws, Florida State might have been forced to abandon its pick-and-roll system, a highly effective strategy that devastated the Tech defenders for big chunks of the game.

“The problem is, you have to have all five guys defend (the pick and roll),” said Gregory, sporting a forced grin. “To be honest, we just had a few guys who fell asleep.”

4. There are two ways of looking at the Jackets’ abysmal start

The optimist would look past Georgia Tech’s 13-0 deficit after six-plus minutes, dismissing it as the low point of a spirited, eventful evening. (The Jackets committed four turnovers and missed five shots during the drought … only to be rescued by a Georges-Hunt dunk around the 13:34 mark.)

They might also note that, after the 13-0 meltdown, Georgia Tech surrendered only 13 points over the next 17 minutes, paving the way for a sizable comeback and surprising halftime lead (27-26).

In turn, the pessimist might view the Jackets’ wretched start as an indicator of future flameouts, especially against better competition at home … or just about any ACC team on the road.

After all, Florida State had recently incurred 20-point drubbings to Duke, Miami and Virginia. An upper-echelon opponent like N.C. State, Miami or Duke might have taken FSU’s 13-0 advantage and sprinted to a 25-point lead before the break.

And that’s an ongoing concern for Gregory, who outlined five points-of-emphasis for his club in the coming weeks: Consistency, taking care of the ball, flourishing against pressure defenses, handling pressure situations and being more disciplined with defensive coverages — especially the pick-and- roll.

“I can talk three, four, five possessions that cost you (games like this),” said Gregory. “Unfortunately, that’s where we’re at right now; we keep fighthing those possesssions.”