Thanks to Alvin Jones, Georgia Tech might be going to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1996.
Jones scored 20 points, grabbed 12 rebounds and blocked six shots as the Yellow Jackets solidified their NCAA credentials with a 74-69 victory Friday over No. 12 Virginia in the quarterfinals of the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament.
No. 5 seed Georgia Tech (17-11) completed a three-game sweep of the fourth-seeded Cavaliers (20-8) with its first ACC tournament victory in five years.
Virginia simply didn’t have anyone who could handle the 6-foot-11 Jones, an All-ACC selection who lived up to the pregame assessment of Cavs coach Pete Gillen.
“He’s a monster,” Gillen had said.
Georgia Tech, one of the country’s most surprising teams under first-year coach Paul Hewitt, earned its seventh victory over a ranked team. This one might have been enough to get the Yellow Jackets off the bubble.
Hewitt was confident the Yellow Jackets would be part of the 65-team field if they could win at least one game in the ACC tournament.
They did, playing just a mile from campus before a tournament record crowd of 40,083 at the Georgia Dome. Tech advanced to a semifinal meeting with No. 3 North Carolina on Saturday.
After a sloppy first half, the final 20 minutes were thrilling with 16 lead changes and four ties. Darryl LaBarrie hit a 3-pointer with 1:31 remaining to put the Jackets ahead for good at 69-67, but it was left to Jones to finish off the Cavaliers.
First, he blocked an attempt at the tying basket by Donald Hand. Then, Jones fought off a triple team to hit a basket with 49.8 seconds remaining that pushed the margin to four points.
Roger Mason, who led Virginia with 20 points, hit a pair of free throws with 19 seconds left, making it 71-69. But Jon Babul countered with two free throws for Georgia Tech.
Jones swatted away the Cavs’ last gasp, a drive by Chris Williams, who fouled out going for the loose ball.
Teammates Travis Watson and Adam Hall already had picked up five fouls in a futile attempt to stop Jones.
When the horn sounded, Jones stood at midcourt with his arms in the air until teammate T.J. Vines – more than a foot shorter – jumped into the big man’s arms.
Tony Akins scored 16 points and LaBarrie added 13, including a couple of key 3-pointers.
Hall had 14 points and 11 rebounds, and Watson managed 12 points and 11 rebounds. But Virginia could not overcome 36-percent shooting (24-of-67) and ran its ACC tournament losing streak to seven in a row.
Nevertheless, the Cavs are expected to earn their first NCAA bid since 1997.
Neither team looked worthy of the NCAA during a chaotic first half. There were airballs, missed layups, a 3-pointer that caught the side of the backboard and a total of 22 turnovers.
One sequence epitomized the half. After Virginia threw the ball away, Tech gave it right back when LaBarrie made an ill-timed pass to teammate Marvin Lewis while he was falling out of bounds. The Cavs took off the other way, only to have Hall botch a layup.