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Jackets survive Wake Forest

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C - Last week, Georgia Tech ended an 11-game ACC road losing streak. On Saturday, the Yellow Jackets took another step toward establishing their credibility away from McCamish Pavilion.

Lifted by clutch baskets by forward Marcus Georges-Hunt and another dynamic effort on defense by center Daniel Miller, Tech sprung a late-game rally on Wake Forest to win 57-56 at Joel Coliseum.

Coupled with a win seven days earlier at Virginia Tech, the Jackets (14-10 overall, 4-8 ACC) earned two notable achievements — their first back-to-back ACC road wins since the 2007-08 season, and their first season since then with more than one ACC road victory.

“I always say, you have to learn what costs you games before you learn how to win ’em,” coach Brian Gregory said. “I thought we took a step (Saturday) in learning how to win games.”

Defeating the Hokies and the Demon Deacons (11-14, 4-9) on the road isn’t quite akin to Hannibal conquering the Pyrenees, but consider that Wake Forest was 4-1 at home in the ACC before Saturday and also that the Jackets were 3-33 in their past 36 ACC road games before defeating Virginia Tech at Cassell Coliseum.

On Saturday, forward Robert Carter scored the go-ahead points for Tech, knocking down a pair of free throws with 8.7 seconds remaining after getting fouled on a put-back attempt. In Tech’s Thursday loss to Clemson, Carter missed the front end of a one-and-one with 2:12 remaining, which proved costly in the Jackets’ 56-53 loss.

“He’s been working (extra) on free throws ever since that last game against Clemson when he missed the one-and-one,” guard Mfon Udofia said. “I knew he was going to make it.”

On the ensuing play, Udofia hounded Wake Forest guard C.J. Harris up the court, forcing the Deacons’ leading scorer to give up the ball on a pass that was deflected out of bounds with 1.7 seconds left. On the inbounds play from the baseline, Wake Forest forward Devin Thomas’ jumper bounced off the rim as time expired, and Tech had its first win decided by five points or less after four such defeats.

Miller played a significant role, blocking five shots, altering several more and deflecting passes to create turnovers in addition to scoring 13 points. Udofia contributed six assists and stuck closely with Harris on defense.

Georges-Hunt scored a game-high 16 points, also his high in ACC play. He scored seven in the final four minutes, as Tech repeatedly looked to the freshman. Through Tech’s problems scoring late in games, Gregory has been trying to find a go-to player. At the very least, Georges-Hunt has earned a longer look.

He made a 3-pointer with 3:40 to go, drove for another basket at the 1:58 mark and scored on a post-up with 59 seconds left that cut Wake Forest’s lead to 56-55. He then drove to the basket for a dunk that, while it somehow didn’t go down, drew enough attention that Carter could grab the rebound and get fouled on the shot.

Down four points at the two-minute mark, the Jackets scored on their final four possessions.

“Even though he’s a freshman, I think he knows I have a lot of trust in him,” Gregory said of Georges-Hunt. “I went to him three, four or five times down the stretch, and he made big play after big play for us.”

As a small forward with shooting range to go with size and strength, he’s proved dangerous on the perimeter and in the post. Part of Tech’s stellar freshman class, Georges-Hunt hasn’t been reluctant to take big shots, but hasn’t clamored for them, either. Udofia said he often encourages him to be more aggressive.

“I felt comfortable,” Georges-Hunt said of having the shots called for him. “Whatever it takes to help my team be successful, I’ll do it.”

Tech held Wake Forest to 29.2 percent shooting, rather remarkably only its second-lowest rate of the season. The Deacons were bailed out by a 23-for-25 performance from the free-throw line, stunning efficiency for a team that entered the game making 67.0 percent of its free throws. Tech, last in the league in free-throw shooting percentage, missed six of its first eight, but made its last seven.

Guard Jason Morris played two minutes in the second half, his first action since aggravating his plantar fasciitis injury in the Miami game Jan. 5.

Tech plays again Tuesday at home at 9 p.m. against North Carolina.

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