Photo: Karl L. Moore Georgia Tech forward Robert Carter, Jr., as Shiloh grad, passes the ball out as Georgia's John Cannon (41) defends during Tuesday night's game at Georgia Tech.
ATLANTA -- Heading into Tuesday night's game against Georgia, nobody really knew exactly how much -- or even if -- Georgia Tech's Mfon Udofia would play.
But fighting through a sprained ankle suffered in his team's previous outing, the senior point guard came through when the young Yellow Jackets needed him the most.
Udofia's driving layup and ensuing free throw with 58 seconds remaining helped Tech hold off Georgia's furious second-half comeback attempt and finally pull away for a 62-54 win.
Freshman Marcus Georges-Hunt scored a game-high 18 points to help provide a satisfying win for the Tech fans in the sellout crowd of 8,600 at the brand new McCamish Pavilion, especially after a loss by the football team in the in-state rivalry two weeks earlier.
"It's a rivalry game and (there were) a lot of questions beforehand, and a lot of emotions that go on with this game," Brian Gregory, who is now 2-0 against Georgia (2-6) in his two seasons as coach at Tech (5-2). "So, I thought our guys did a good job of controlling those and containing those. Give Georgia credit. They kept fighting and cut that lead and turned it into a game at the end."
It was also satisfying for Udofia and fellow senior Pierre Jordan, who will leave Tech as part of the first Jackets team to beat the Bulldogs in consecutive years since 1993-94 despite having to fight through his sprained ankle.
"This is the Georgia game, so my adrenaline was running," said Udofia, who scored nine of this 12 points in the second half and added a pair of assists and two rebounds in 31 minutes. "So, sometimes I didn't really feel that pain. ... At first, I didn't know if I was going to play. After that game against Illinois, I was on crutches and could barely walk. But the next game happened to be Georgia. This is my last year, so even if I had to go out and act like I was going to play so my (teammates) know I was here with them and give them an energy boost ... that's why I decided I was going to play."
Tech actually never trailed in the game, building up a 35-22 lead at halftime on the strength of particularly hot shooting from the perimeter.
Though the Jackets hit just 9 of 26 shots (34.6 percent) from the floor overall in the opening 20 minutes, they connected on 6 of 10 shots from beyond the 3-point arc.
"I felt the difference in the game was 3-point shooting by Tech, especially in the first half," Georgia coach Mark Fox said of the Jackets, who finished 9 of 21 (42.9 percent) from behind the arc. "They built a lead, so we played uphill all night. That's very hard to do on the road."
It was North Gwinnett grad Chris Bolden who helped kick-start the Tech outside game. First, the 6-foot-3, 209-pound freshman followed a Jason Morris 3-pointer with one of his own to ignite an early 7-0 run that gave Tech a 13-5 advantage with 14:18 left in the first half.
Later in the half, Bolden drained a 3-pointer from deep on the left wing, followed by a jumper from fellow freshman and Shiloh grad Robert Carter Jr. to lead a 10-2 run that pushed the lead out to 23-14 after a 3-pointer from Udofia with 5:59 left in the half, and eventually took a 13-point advantage into intermission.
But in the second half, Georgia tried to fight back behind Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who scored 12 of his team-high 16 points and pulled down 12 of his game-high 16 rebounds in the final frame.
Controlling the offensive boards and getting countless second-chance opportunities, the Bulldogs slowly began to claw their way back in.
They made their first move after Tech had built its lead to as much as 14 points at 45-31 following Kammeon Holsey's layup with 13:53 left.
Caldwell-Pope had five points and an assist during an 11-3 run over a 5:46 span that pulled Georgia to as close as 46-42 after Marcus Thornton's jumper with 7:08 remaining.
But Udofia answered with a clutch 3-pointer from the right of the top of the key to spark a 7-0 run that appeared to give Tech control again at 55-42 following a 3-pointer by Georges-Hunt with 5:17 left.
Still, Georgia kept fighting, with a stickback dunk by Donte' Williams and free throws by Caldwell-Pope, Brandon Morris and Vincent Williams leading to an 8-0 run that pulled the Bulldogs to within 55-50 -- as close as they'd been since the 9:25 mark of the first half -- with just 2:07 remaining.
"We put ourselves in position to win the game late," Fox said. "(But) Udofia made some senior plays (down the stretch)."
Indeed, after missing three straight free throws in two trips to the line over a 22-second stretch, Udofia got another chance to give the Jackets breathing room after a Daniel Miller blocked shot helped Tech force Georgia into a shot clock violation with 1:29 left.
And the senior made that chance count, driving down the left side of the lane and scooping in a layup while being fouled by Donte' Williams.
This time, he hit the ensuing free throw, and the conventional three-point play gave Tech a 58-50 lead with 58 seconds remaining.
"I felt like I had a good angle (to the basket)," Udofia said. "I was going to try to make the layup. I was surprised it went in. (The free throw) was easier. After I'd missed those first three, I was kind of upset with myself, but I knew I was going to make that last one."
Georges-Hunt and Brandon Reed then hit key free throws in the final seconds to help Tech put the game away.
While Georges-Hunt and Udofia were Tech's only two players in double figures, the Jackets also got contributions from several other sources, including Tech's Gwinnett duo of Bolden (six points, one rebound, one steal) and Carter (five points, five rebounds, two steals and a blocked shot), as well as Daniel Miller, who added six points, eight rebounds and three blocks.
Georgia also got help from Donte' Williams' six points and seven boards, plus nine points from Morris.