ATLANTA (AP) — Louisville was on the verge of what was becoming a familiar result.
Then Terry Rozier took matters into his own hands.
The sophomore guard suddenly got hot from 3-point range and hit the go-ahead basket on a daring dash to the basket, helping the No. 17 Cardinals wipe out a 13-point deficit with under 10 minutes remaining for a 52-51 victory over Georgia Tech on Monday night.
In a frenzied finish with both teams out of timeouts, Marcus Georges-Hunt tied it at 48 for the Yellow Jackets on a drive with 24 seconds remaining. Louisville (22-6, 10-5 Atlantic Coast Conference) quickly inbounded, took off the other way, and Rozier banked one in with 20 seconds to go before tumbling under the hoop, the last of his 22 points.
“I wanted Rozier to bring it back out,” coach Rick Pitino said. “But there was no stopping him at that point. He was going.”
Georgia Tech (12-16, 3-13) turned it over when Georges-Hunt got surrounded in the lane, but Montrezl Harrell missed the one-and-one to give the Yellow Jackets another chance. Travis Jorgenson drove into the lane, but Chinanu Onuaku swatted the shot away. Wayne Blackshear was fouled and hit two free throws with 4.8 seconds left to clinch the victory, offsetting a desperation 3-pointer by the home team just before the buzzer.
Louisville had lost three of its previous five games, tumbling five spots in this week’s Associated Press poll.
Pitino senses his team is starting to turn the corner.
“I’m as proud of this basketball team as any game I’ve ever coached,” he said.
The Yellow Jackets were seemingly in control after Demarco Cox made a layup for their biggest lead, 41-28 with 9:40 remaining. But Rozier made back-to-back 3s, after Louisville missed its first nine attempts from long range, and Blackshear also hit a 3 to highlight an 11-0 run.
Just like that, Louisville was back in the game, sending the large contingent of red-clad fans into a “Let’s Go Cards!” frenzy. They closed on a 24-10 run, sending Georgia Tech and embattled coach Brian Gregory to another bitter loss.
Six of the Yellow Jackets’ last seven defeats have been by a total of 16 points.
“We’re not giving up,” said Charles Mitchell, who had 14 rebounds. “Hopefully we can get to the ACC tournament and the chips start falling our way.”
For much of the night, it looked as though the Cardinals would add to their recent woes. They went completely cold over the final 8 minutes of the first half, managing only three points on their last 13 possessions.
Georgia Tech led 24-17 at the break, the third time in the last six games the Cardinals were held under 20 points in the first half.
Louisville played one day after starting guard Chris Jones was kicked off the team. He was the team’s leader in assists (3.7 per game) and its third-leading scorer (13.7 points).
Jones had been suspended for one game, returned to play in Saturday’s victory over Miami, then was booted off the squad for good. Pitino would not say why the player was dismissed but said “there’s no way he’s coming back. It’s over.”
According to a university police report, Jones was initially suspended just hours after he sent a text to a woman threatening to “smack” her.
Louisville: The Cardinals were held to 13 points in the first half of a 52-47 loss to No. 2 Virginia on Feb. 7, and trailed Miami 29-19 at halftime last Saturday before rallying for 55-53 win. … Louisville finished 5 of 16 from 3-point range. … Blackshear was the only other Cardinals player in double figures with 10 points. … The Cardinals were 7 of 17 at the foul line.
Georgia Tech: The final basket by Tadric Jackson was the Yellow Jackets’ only 3-pointer of the game. They went 1 of 11 beyond the arc. … Georges-Hunt led Georgia Tech with 13 points, and Cox had 11. … Led by Mitchell, Georgia Tech had a 40-34 edge on the boards but also struggled at the foul line, going 4 of 10.
Pitino tried to give a boost to his Georgia Tech counterpart, whose ACC record dropped to 19-49 in four years as the Yellow Jackets’ coach.
“I’m not saying he’s the next John Wooden,” Pitino said. “But I think he’s one of the top 15 basketball coaches in the nation.”
Gregory replied with a smile, “I would have rather won the game and him think I stink.”
Louisville: Plays at Florida State on Saturday.
Georgia Tech: Travels to Clemson on Saturday.
Follow Paul Newberry on Twitter at www.twitter.com/pnewberry1963