The Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets languished in the Atlantic Coast Conference cellar at 0-7 heading into Wednesday night’s game against No. 23 Miami. They had scored just 28 points in a loss to Virginia last week, lowest point total for a Tech team since the 1946-47 season.
In other words, exactly the kind of team that caused grave concern for the Miami coaching staff.
The Canes have had a tendency to play high-quality games against high-profile teams (wins over Florida, Duke, Illinois, Syracuse) and let downs against weaker, less glamorous teams (losses to Wisconsin Green-Bay and Eastern Kentucky).
The trend continued, as Miami trailed from start to finish and lost 70-50 in front of a deflated BankUnited Center crowd that was heading to the exits with four minutes to go.
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UM Coach Jim Larrañaga, his voice hoarse from two days of screaming at listless practices, said: “This team probably has the widest range of performance I have ever seen. They can be absolutely great one night, and you just don’t recognize them the next day. It’s very, very disappointing. Our focus was not there. The effort was not there.”
Miami players did little to dispel the notion that they get fired up only for big games. They fell behind 11-2 in a hurry. After eight minutes, they were in a 20-6 hole, and shooting 23 percent compared to 82 percent for the Yellow Jackets. They were also getting tormented in the paint by 276-pound Demarco Cox and 269-pound Charles Mitchell.
“We came in everybody sloppy, didn’t pick it up from the start,” said UM center Tonye Jekiri, the only Hurricane in double figures with 13 points and nine rebounds. “On the road we always feel like the underdog, and that gets everybody on their feet. But when we come home, we relax. We let other teams come here and play their best and show we’re not really good on defense. I don’t know why, but we have a lack of focus at home.”
Larrañaga went to his bench, and got a boost from 6-10 Spaniard Ivan Cruz Uceda, who drained a much-needed three-pointer and followed that up with a layup during a 7-0 Canes run that shrunk the Georgia Tech lead to 20-13.
The Hurricanes were able to get the gap down to six with a trio of three-pointers late in the first half — two from Davon Reed, and one from DeAndre Burnett, who never left the bench in the previous two games.
Miami’s most reliable scorers were all struggling. Angel Rodriguez and Omar Sherman were each 0 for 5, Sheldon McClellan was 0 for 3, and Manu Lecomte was 0 for 2.
As a team, the Canes shot 10 of 30 in the first half, and 24 percent from three-point range (4 of 17).
The Yellow Jackets, meanwhile, were hitting 57 percent of their shots against the Hurricanes.
Things didn’t change in the second half, and UM never got closer than seven. Rodriguez never found his shot, and went 0 for 8 for the night with five assists and four turnovers. Sherman never scored. Burnett was 1 for 6. And McClellan was 2 for 7 for six points with no rebounds.
Larrañaga was asked how a team that can beat Florida, Duke and Syracuse on the road can lose to Green Bay, Eastern Kentucky and Georgia Tech at home, and whether the lack of fan noise at the BankUnited Center hurts his team.
He replied: “The expression home court advantage means a lot of fans cheering wildly for you, a lot of students. The atmosphere in our arena was certainly not what it was at Syracuse, Cameron (Indoor Stadium), or Florida. I do think kids tend to respond to the energy in the building and there wasn’t a whole lot of energy tonight.”
Did it surprise him that only 5,031 showed up to see a Top 25 home team?
“I’ve been here four years. It doesn’t surprise me. I would have loved to have seen the place packed. But you can’t rely on the fans to motivate you. Motivation comes from within. If you have to have external motivation to play well, you’re going to be very inconsistent.”
In the final minutes, the Hurricanes were clearly dejected and the few Yellow Jacket fans in the crowd cheered as Marcus Georges-Hunt had a thunderous dunk. He led Georgia Tech with 24 points, making 10 of his 12 shots. Cox added 10.
Miami, which had just re-entered the Top 25 this week, dropped to 14-6, 4-3 ACC. Georgia Tech evened its record to 10-10 overall, and is 1-7 in the conference.
One Yellow Jacket who may have been familiar to UM fans was guard Chris Bolden, who had committed to Miami when Frank Haith was the coach, but reneged on his commitment in April 2011 when Haith was replaced by Larrañaga. Bolden, a junior guard, made the first basket of the night, a three-pointer one minute in, and finished the night with 13 points.
“Miami’s a very good team,” Georgia Tech coach Brian Gregory said. “They didn’t play as well as they’ve been playing. I think we had something to do with it. But, that was not the way they’ve been playing. They’re going to win a lot of games by the end of the season.’’
The Hurricanes will spend the rest of the week preparing for the road game at Florida State on Sunday afternoon.