Perhaps sixth-ranked Georgia Tech lost a bit of its enthusiasm after learning it would remain atop the Atlantic Coast Conference standings, win or lose today, compliments of North Carolina State's upset of North Carolina. Or perhaps, Tech was psyched out by Virginia's 6-0 victory streak here at University Hall. Perhaps it was bad luck so many Tech jumpers went in and out. And just maybe, just maybe, it was Virginia.
The cellar-dweller Cavaliers parlayed tenacious defense with 56 percent field goal shooting and stunned the Yellow Jackets, 62-55, before 9,000.
The Cavaliers (14-11 overall, 2-8 in the ACC), who have won six of their last eight games since sophomore Tom Calloway became the starter at the point, were particularly outstanding on defense the first 20 minutes, when they muscled their way to a 32-19 lead.
Calloway, in addition to guarding Mark Price (17 points), had 16 points and did a good job of handling Tech's press. Olden Polynice had nine of his 14 points and six of his 11 rebounds in the first half. Tom Sheehey had 13 points and five rebounds against the Yellow Jackets (18-5, 7-4).
"Fortunately, we got off to the good start, playing great defense and hitting our open shots," said obviously pleased Virginia Coach Terry Holland. "That allowed us to control the game. We had that bad stretch to open the second half but regained our composure. When they made their run at us, we hit our free throws."
A team as good as Tech always is good for one big run, sometimes several. The shots that kept rolling in and around the rim before falling into the greedy hands of Virginia rebounders (who outrebounded Tech, 34-28) would start to fall. Or so the Yellow Jackets thought.
"We missed some incredible shots," said Price, a not-so-hot five for 14 from the floor. "The ball was slipping out of our hands, going in and out."
Despite the Cavaliers' slow start in the second half, they kept a sizable lead because of Tech's poor shooting (20 of 58). When the Cavaliers settled down, Calloway scored after a steal and lost Price for a jumper and Sheehey made two foul shots to push the hosts' lead to 51-36 with 5:22 left.
Tech's press forced some careless passes, and some good offensive rebounding by John Salley (14 points, eight rebounds) and Duane Ferrell enabled the visitors to get to 57-49 with 1:09 left.
Calloway pushed the lead back to 10 with two shots from the line before the Yellow Jackets got free throws from Price and Ferrell to close to 59-53 with 42 seconds remaining.
"All we had to do was slow down, take our time and go to the line," Polynice said. "We did the job of keeping them off the boards and kept in control."
Sheehey's free throw made it 60-53 with 22 seconds to play.
Tech's last try for a miraculous rally ended when Salley missed the front end of a one-and-one and Ferrell missed a layup that was rebounded by Polynice. Calloway's layup after Sheehey's missed dunk with nine seconds left clinched it.
Tech lost this one in the first half. Its two inside forces, Salley and Yvon Joseph, did nothing but take up space and totaled but seven points and three rebounds.
"Stopping both of them is tough," Polynice said. "But all of us clogged the lane and they couldn't get anything in there."
Tech opened the game by making its first two shots, to tie the Cavaliers at 4. But in the next seven minutes, Tech got only one field goal, that a long jumper by Price. Virginia would be even tougher on the Atlantans later, holding them to one field goal in the final 6:42 of the half.
Polynice outplayed both his counterparts (Salley and Joseph), getting nine points and six rebounds. Tim Mullen had six points and four other Cavaliers each had four as Virginia methodically expanded its lead to eight, 10 and eventually 14 points late in the first half. Jimmy Miller's turn-and-in-your-face jumper over Salley sent the hosts out to their 30-16 lead.
Joseph had a free throw and Salley converted Tech's only fast-break opportunity to cut it to 11 points. But since everything was going so well for the Cavaliers, why shouldn't they get all the loose balls, too?
Calloway stole a ball and headed upcourt. He lost the ball and, after a mad scramble under the Cavaliers' basket, Polynice retrieved it from among the fallen bodies and made a layup to give his team a comfortable 32-19 lead at the half.