Georgia Tech wins battle of Atlanta, rallying past Georgia State 72-67
ATLANTA (AP)—Georgia Tech was 15 minutes away from another embarrassing loss, this one to its lowly city rival. Lewis Clinch and Zack Peacock made sure the short ride home was a lot easier to take.
Clinch scored 22 points, Peacock added 17 and the Yellow Jackets rallied in the second half for a 72-67 victory over Georgia State on Wednesday night.
Georgia Tech (4-4) already had lost to UNC-Greensboro and Winthrop, and they trailed the Panthers 40-32 after going nearly 5 minutes without a point to start the second half.
But Georgia State (2-5), which was hosting Georgia Tech for the first time since 1973 even though the Atlanta schools are only a couple of miles apart, couldn’t hold on for the first signature win of coach Rod Barnes’ tenure.
“Clinch and Peacock stepped up and made some big plays down the stretch,” Georgia Tech coach Paul Hewitt said. “Coming into this environment, you know they’re excited, their fans are excited and they’re really going to come after you. I’m glad we got the win. Can we play better? Should we play better? Sure. But it’s a long season. This is another step forward.”
Clinch hit a jumper in the lane with 6:02 remaining to cap a 13-5 run that gave the Yellow Jackets their first lead of the second half, 58-56.
Leonard Mendez, who led the Panthers with 20 points, made two free throws to tie it up again, but Peacock scored on the inside after setting a bruising pick near midcourt. Georgia Tech led the rest of the way.
“The most important thing is to stay poised,” Clinch said. “With 15 minutes to go and down by eight, you’re still in the game. All you have to do is string together three or four stops and convert at the other end to turn the game around.”
Georgia State’s last chance came after Peacock was whistled for a technical with 2:01 remaining, apparently for mouthing off at a Panthers player. Mendez made two free throws to pull the Panthers within 64-62, and they got the ball back with 6 seconds left on the shot clock.
But Rashad Chase stumbled trying to drive and Georgia State failed to get off a shot.
“We had it under control,” Peacock said. “Yeah, I made a mistake, but we came together and got ‘em on the next play.”
The burly sophomore was clearly fired up after getting a text message and follow-up phone call from his father.
“My dad told me before the game I was going to be the MVP,” Peacock said.
Clinch wrapped it up at the foul line, hitting a pair of free throws with 3.7 seconds remaining after Kevin Lott hit a 3-pointer to give the Panthers a glimmer of hope.
“Their fans were behind them and they really wanted to win,” Clinch said. “But we got over the hump by staying poised, and we were able to finish the game off.”
Georgia Tech shot 52 percent (13-of-25) in the second half, pounding the ball inside to create more scoring chances. The Yellow Jackets also came up with several big turnovers in the closing minutes.
“This team needs to be tested and challenged,” Hewitt said. “People asked me, did we bite off too much? But if we’re going to be any good this year, we’ve got to play with a lot more toughness.”
While Clinch and Peacock were the only players in double figures for Georgia Tech, seven other players got on the scoresheet.
Mendez had 14 of his points in the first half, struggling to get open over the final 20 minutes. Lott had 14 points and Chase added 12.
Georgia Tech played its seventh straight road or neutral-site game, though the Yellow Jackets didn’t have to go far for this one. They improved to 16-2 against the Panthers, winning their 13th in a row since their last loss to Georgia State in 1976.
Hewitt chuckled when asked if he would keep playing the Panthers on an annual basis.
“Don’t expect that,” he said, before adding, “We might keep doing it. It’s a fun game to play.”
Barnes would love to keep up a regular series with the Yellow Jackets, though he understands that Georgia State has a lot more to gain from such an arrangement. The crowd of 3,279 was just short of capacity at the 3,400-seat arena and easily the largest crowd of the season.
“Would is be a great series and something we could build on? Would it be great for Georgia State’s fans and students? Of course,” Barnes said. “But I understand the other side of it. I appreciate them coming to our place. If they continue to play us, great. If they don’t, it’s not going to cost us our program.”
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