ATLANTA — With his team struggling on offense in the first half, Louisville coach Rick Pitino grabbed the arm of his best player and told him to keep shooting.
In the end it was the big baskets by guard Terry Rozier that made the difference. The sophomore scored 22 points, including the go-ahead basket with 20 seconds remaining, as 12th-ranked Louisville erased a 13-point second-half deficit to beat Georgia Tech 52-51 on Monday.
“There’s only one way to get hot in basketball and that’s to shoot the ball,” Pitino said. “Terry Rozier took it to heart because he had a first half that wasn’t going his way and he just played brilliant in the second half.”
Rozier had only four points at halftime, but made 7 of 12 shots from the field in the second half to spark the Cardinals (22-6, 10-5 ACC).
“Rozier took the game over in the second half,” Georgia Tech coach Brian Gregory said. “That’s why they’re projecting him as a top 15 pick in the draft.”
Georgia Tech (12-16, 3-13 ACC) was led by forward Marcus Georges-Hunt, who had 13 points, five rebounds, three assists, two blocks and one steal. But he also turned it over six times and made only 3 of 8 shots from the line.
“We ask a lot of Marcus to be the go-to guy for us,” Gregory said. “Against this team he had to handle the ball a lot, make shots, and on the other end defend their best player in Rozier. He’s challenged quite a bit in every area, but he kept coming back.”
Louisville trailed 24-17 at halftime and cut the lead to three with two quick baskets following the break, but Georgia Tech answered and stretched its lead to nine when center Demarco Cox followed a missed shot with a basket. The Yellow Jackets continued to match the Cardinals basket-for-basket and retained a nine-point lead.
Georgia Tech wasn’t finished building the lead. The Yellow Jackets completed a 7-1 run on a basket by Cox that pushed the lead to 13 points at 41-28 with 9:38 remaining.
That’s when Louisville started its comeback. The Cardinals answered with back-to-back 3-pointers from Rozier and guard Anton Gill. That led to a 14-2 run, with forward Wayne Blackshear’s trey making it 41-39 with 6:42 left.
“Like most of our games, we come alive shooting the ball in the second half,” Pitino said. “I was surprised because of the amount of pressure we put defensively that we had those legs in the second half.”
Louisville finally tied it on a 3-pointer by Blackshear, which knotted the scored a 46-46 with 1:35 remaining. The Cardinals took the lead on a drive by Rozier with 59 seconds left, but Georges-Hunt scored to tie the game for about two seconds, as Rozier quickly answered with the bucket that put Louisville ahead to stay.
Georgia Tech guard Travis Jorgenson drove to the basket in an attempt to tie the game, but had his shot blocked by center Chinanu Onuaku. Blackshear controlled the rebound and made two free throws with five seconds left to put the game out of reach.
“I’m as proud of this basketball team as any I’ve ever coached,” Pitino said. “These guys kept their attitude focused on one thing: winning the game.”
Louisville also got 10 points and eight rebounds from Blackshear and eight points and eight rebounds from forward Montrezl Harrell.
Georgia Tech got 11 points and 11 rebounds from Cox. Forward Charles Mitchell matched his season high with 14 rebounds.
“They made timely 3s and got timely offensive rebounds in the second half, and unfortunately we weren’t able to do the same,” Gregory said.
NOTES: In an effort to explain the decision to dismiss G Chris Jones from the team, Louisville issued a report that said the senior threatened his girlfriend. Jones was suspended for the Feb. 18 game against Syracuse, which Louisville lost, but was reinstated Saturday and scored 17 points in a win over Miami. Jones was averaging 13.7 points, 4.0 rebounds and 3.6 assists. He was replaced in the starting lineup by Shaqquan Aaron, a 6-foot-7 freshman who averages 1.7 points. … The teams met for the first time as ACC rivals. The schools competed against each other in the
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