Photo by Christine Troyke
ATHENS The "Stegeman Curse" continues for Georgia Tech's basketball team, and Georgia has a trio of former Gwinnett high school stars to thank for it.
Wesleyan grad Trey Thompkins scored 20 points and pulled down six rebounds, while Parkview's Ricky McPhee scored 16 points and North Gwinnett's Ebuka Anyorah gave quality minutes off the bench to extend the Bulldogs' homecourt supremacy over the Yellow Jackets to 13 straight games with a 73-66 upset before a disappointingly small crowd of 6,275 on Tuesday night.
"Just the fact it's Georgia Tech and Georgia ... it's big," said McPhee, who connected on 4 of 7 shots from 3-point range, including what turned out to be the dagger in Tech's heart to give the Bulldogs (8-5) a 61-54 lead with 1:25 to play.
"For us to get the win just means a lot to us ... and to show that we can hold our own at home."
Tech's own Gwinnett grad, Norcross' Gani Lawal had a huge game, too, with a game-high 21 points and six rebounds.
However, the Jackets' streak of futility at Stegeman Coliseum which dates back to 1976 continued because they shot just 38.3 percent (23 of 60) from the floor and committed 20 turnovers.
It was a bitter pill for a Tech (11-3) team that came into this season with high expectations and a No. 20 national ranking by the Associated Press.
But the Jackets came up short against a Georgia team that lost at home to Wofford earlier this season and came into Tuesday's game off a 28-point beating at Missouri just three days earlier.
"I don't mean to sound cocky, but we are the better team," Lawal said. "We just didn't play like it (Tuesday) night. "We really wanted to win this game. ... Now we've got to move on. We've got Duke in an ACC game coming up on Saturday."
While Lawal helped keep Tech in the game throughout the first half with 12 points and all six of his rebounds, Georgia's Gwinnett grads helped the Bulldogs build their lead.
McPhee hit 3-pointers on his first two attempts in the opening 1:36 as Georgia ran out to as big as a 16-8 lead after Travis Leslie's layup with 11:59 left in the first half.
"I was able to get some good shots off some screens," said McPhee, who was 5-for-9 overall from the floor. "That freed me up a little bit. I just wanted to go out there and be aggressive to start off the game. I was lucky to get two wide open looks and knock down those 3s for us."
Thompkins then added four points and three rebounds as Georgia held off several Tech runs to take a 31-26 lead into halftime.
But it was in the second half that the 6-foot-10, 247-pound former Wesleyan star began to really assert himself.
Thompkins struck for 14 of his points and half his rebounds in the final 20 minutes, a reversal of last year's meeting with Tech, in which he had a huge first half, but he and the Bulldogs fell victim to a huge surge by Lawal in a Jackets victory in Atlanta.
"Gani is a great player," said Thompkins, who was 8 of 9 from the foul line. "Derrick (Favors) is a great player. Zach Peacock is a great player. That front line is one of the best front lines in the country. But at the same time, we feel like our front line can play with a lot of people.
"This was a statement game for us. A proving game for us to show we can play with great teams."
And there were periods in which Tech looked like it might assert itself in the second half.
The Jackets opened the final frame on a 10-2 run to take a 36-33 lead after a Favors dunk with 14:45 to play.
Then, after Georgia rallied to take as much as a 53-48 lead after a three-point play by Thompkins with 4:37 left, Tech still had chances.
A layup by Peacock cut the lead to 53-52 with 3:16 left, but the 6-8 senior could not convert a three-point play.
The Jackets had two other chances to take the lead, but could not cash in.
And after McPhee's 3-pointer ended an 8-2 run, Thompkins delivered the knockout blow with a steal off an inbounds pass and Georgia up five with 47 seconds left, which prompted the jubilant Georgia student section to chant, "Just like football," in reference to the Bulldog football team's upset of a ranked Tech team just over a month ago.
Anyorah also had a solid night off the bench for Georgia with five points, six rebounds and three assists in 18 minutes, while Ware (13 points) and Leslie (12) also reached double figures.
Peacock was Tech's only other player in double figures with 16 points, while Favors added eight points and eight rebounds.