By Darrell Baker
ATLANTA – The Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets suffered an embarrassing loss at the hands of underdog Grambling State Tigers 64-63, on its own basket in the final seconds, Friday at McCamish Pavilion.
The Grambling State Tigers were 1-5 on the season and 0-1 against the Yellow Jackets coming into the game. The Grambling State Tigers, a team out of the SWAC, one of the weakest leagues amongst Division 1 schools, was picked to finish seventh in the 10-team league. Offensively and defensively, they were averaging 70.7 and 81.6 points a game, respectively, before playing Georgia Tech.
Against major conferences, the Tigers were 0-63 since their 1996-1997 season and not expected to be much trouble for the Yellow Jackets, who should have won this game easily. This was surprise victory for their program, the biggest in school history, defeating a Georgia Tech team that was a 24.5 point favorite. “The basketball Gods were on our side,” first-year Grambling State head coach Donte’ Jackson said. “We competed hard.”
Jose Alvarado gave the Yellow Jackets a 63-60 lead with two free throws with 43 seconds left to play in the game before Grambling State’s Ivy Smith Jr. hit a pair of free throws with no time off the clock because Yellow Jackets’ Brandon Alston was whistled for a foul on Grambling State’s inbound pass. Ivy Smith Jr. would make both free throws to make the score 63-62.
Grambling State would then run the clock down to 8 seconds after the Yellow Jackets were unable to score on the ensuing possession. Still down by 2 points, Grambling State’s Ivy Smith Jr. would drive in for a layup and miss, but as the ball came off the rim, Yellow Jackets Curtis Haywood II and Ben Lammers vied for the rebound, only to instead accidentally tip the ball into their own hoop with 6.5 seconds remaining.
The Yellow Jackets almost rallied back when guard Jose Alvarado exploded with 20 of his 22 points in the second half as they tried to chip away at a 16-point 47-31 Grambling State lead with 10 minutes left in the game. Alvarado would score 11 straight field goals during the rally to try and take the game back from Grambling State but it was not enough to overcome the poor team play that plagued the Yellow Jackets all night.
The Yellow Jackets came out flat and uninspired from the beginning, allowing Grambling State to set the tone using their own style of play. The Tigers played at a methodical slow pace in the first half, working the ball around the arc, looking for sure points inside the paint. Both guard Diontae Jones and forward Axel Mpoyo, would lead the Tigers with 8 points each in the first half. They combined for 16 of the Tigers 25 first half points. The Tigers would go into halftime with a two-point lead of 25-23 over the Yellow Jackets.
Georgia Tech seemed willing to let the Tigers hang around from the start. They did not shoot the ball well at all. Ben Lammers, their lead scorer, missed all of his 6 shots in the first half and only scored 4 points in the second half. The Yellow Jackets also missed passes, allowing themselves to get out-muscled on defense by the much smaller team, and shot terribly from three-point range the entire game. “They deserved to win the game,” Georgia Tech head coach Josh Pastner said. “They just played with more energy.”
Senior center, Ben Lammers, the heart of the Yellow Jackets team had a painful night on offense. His 1-for-7 shooting and 2-for-5 from the free-throw line made for a forgettable night. Lammers is still not 100% after spraining his ankle against Bethune-Cookman on November 19th, and while he has not been cleared to practice, he is only joining the team for games. “He’s been out of sync, but 40 to 50 percent Ben Lammers is better for us than no percent Ben Lammers,” coach Pastner said. “We don’t really have any other option without Ben there right now.”