Georgia Tech coach Brian Gregory ventured nowhere near the term “signature win” or declare any problems solved Tuesday night.
He is smart enough and experienced enough to know that the picture is much bigger than a stunning upset of the No. 7 team in the country.
“I try not to get too high or too low, because the process that we’re in right now, you’d have trouble if you did that,” he said following the Yellow Jackets’ 67-62 win over the Orange.
In continuing his answer, Gregory allowed that he has been pleased with every aspect of the team except for the record, as the Jackets, now 14-16, appear bound to finish right around .500 for the second season in a row.
“Our guys are developing,” he said. “We are creating an identity. We’re playing with greater toughness. Not as much as I would like, but you see guys getting better. The wins and losses haven’t necessarily come. A lot of different reasons for that, and some that we’ve got to take care of. But when you get a win like tonight, you can see it adds a little juice to our guys.”
It was interesting to hear the perspective shared by both center Daniel Miller and forward Robert Carter.
Miller said that beating the Orange felt good, “but just knowing at the same time we can always play this good (is) a little disappointing. But hopefully we can capitalize on this win and keep going.”
Carter practically repeated his teammate, saying the win felt good, but “it just makes me think about the games that we lost.”
Tech has been hit unusually hard with injuries, but its own play has been a determining factor in many of its losses. The Jackets were a play away from beating both N.C. State and Notre Dame on the road, and were about as close to beating Clemson in Littlejohn Coliseum, as well. With a marginally greater level of execution or luck, Tech might be 17-13 and closing in on an NIT berth. The Jackets, of course, are not, and instead have a win that offers demonstration of progress and potential while at the same time providing a reminder of what might have been. (That said, the Jackets could have just as easily been swept by Boston College as they did, in fact, sweep them. Perhaps luck and bounces even out.)
It is, regardless, Gregory’s biggest win at Tech. Miami was ranked No. 6 last year when the Jackets upended them on the night the Hurricanes intended to clinch the ACC regular-season title, a spot ahead of Syracuse’s ranking Tuesday night. Still, consider that Tuesday night was just the fifth loss for Syracuse in the Carrier Dome in the past three seasons. If Gregory could change anything about Tuesday, it would likely be that the game be carried by ESPN and not regionally.
“I have all the respect for (Miami coach) Jim (Larranaga) and what they did last year, but Syracuse’s brand is so much bigger, nationally,” Gregory said. “But, you know me, I want to make sure we’re ready to play on Saturday and build this momentum heading into the tournament.”
And that is part of the answer of the meaning of the win over Syracuse. A loss to Virginia Tech on Saturday on senior day for Miller, Trae Golden, Kammeon Holsey and Jason Morris would not remove all of the momentum of Tuesday night, but it would take out a good chunk. The win over Miami last year is memorable, but the Jackets followed it up with the loss at Boston College to end the regular season followed by the ACC tournament blowout loss to the same Eagles five days later, a game that defines the 2012-13 Jackets perhaps more than the Miami win.
A win over Virginia Tech would improve the Jackets’ record to 15-16 and 6-12 in the ACC, their same ACC record as last season against better competition. There is a thicket of possibilities for where that would leave them in the standings, but it would likely be somewhere between 10th and 12th. Possible first-round opponents include Wake Forest, Boston College and Virginia Tech.
For simplicity’s sake, let’s say Tech draws Wake Forest in a 12-13 game. A win over the Demon Deacons would advance the Jackets – if the standings were to hold - to play No. 5 seed Pittsburgh. Could Tech beat the Panthers? Possibly.
A season that ended with two wins at the ACC tournament and a road win over Syracuse would feel a bit differently than one that, say, ended with back-to-back losses to Virginia Tech.
For now, it’s a feel-good moment, one richly deserved for seniors Miller, Holsey and Golden and their teammates, just as the Miami win was for Mfon Udofia and Pierre Jordan. It is affirmation of work that has been invested. And it could mean just that, a win by a team that has not achieved all of its goals and pulled a big upset over a team with a high ranking but that is clearly struggling. But it could mean so much more.
After the game, “everybody was excited, which everybody should be,” Carter said. “We did the same thing last year at Miami. We didn’t finish the job to make it into a tournament, so this year we’ve got to keep pushing to win the next game, get some good tournament wins and hopefully we can get in some postseason (tournament), make it a good season.”