The winning style of play came through when Gregory, the second-year coach, needed it most.
Georgia Tech rallied from a halftime deficit of nine points, finally taking the lead on Mfon Udofia’s jumper with 1:19 remaining, and beat Virginia 66-60 on Sunday to end the Cavaliers’ four-game winning streak.
It was a much-needed win for Georgia Tech (12-8, 2-6 Atlantic Coast Conference), which was coming off a close loss at Clemson.
Georgia Tech won by closing with an 18-6 run, including a stretch where it held Virginia without a field goal for more than 9 minutes.
“You saw glimpses of how we want our program to look night in and night out today,” Gregory said. “That toughness, that grit, plus all that other stuff. I thought today was the first time you saw longer glimpses of that.”
Virginia (15-6, 5-3) ranks third in the nation and first in the ACC with its average of 51.2 points allowed per game. Georgia Tech is the first ACC team to score 60 points against the Cavaliers.
Gregory was impressed his team made 47.8 percent of its shots (22 of 46) against Virginia’s tough defense.
“That’s hard to do against them,” Gregory said.
Virginia led 54-48 after a 3-pointer by freshman Evan Nolte with 9:40 remaining. The Cavaliers were unable to overcome the long drought without a field goal that lasted until Jontel Evans’ driving basket with 35 seconds remaining.
Udofia led Georgia Tech with 15 points. Freshmen Chris Bolden and Robert Carter Jr. each had 14.
Joe Harris led Virginia with 18 points, but he was held to only four points in the second half.
“They started locking a little more on Joe,” said Virginia coach Tony Bennett. “I thought we got some pretty good looks, and maybe that’s just a cop-out for not good offense.”
Bennett said his players took good “rhythm” 3-pointers and also had missed attempts close to the basket by Akil Mitchell, who had 13 points.
“It’s been a problem all year,” Mitchell said of the inability to protect the lead. “We’ve just got to finish games. When we’ve got them on the ropes, we’ve got to finish games.”
Harris made only 1 of 5 shots from the field in the second half and committed six turnovers.
“It’s really disappointing,” Harris said. “We’ve been playing well. We’ve been having good practices. You’re just hoping that it will all translate on the road in a game we expected to win.”
Virginia, which shot 51.9 percent from the field in the first half (14 of 27), made only 8 of 28 shots (28.6 percent) in the final 20 minutes.
Virginia led 37-28 at halftime. Bolden’s 3-pointer with 3:45 remaining tied the game at 57-57 before Udofia’s jumper gave the Yellow Jackets their first lead since 20-17.
Carter opened the second half with back-to-back baskets, followed by a short jumper by another freshman, Marcus Georges-Hunt, to cut the lead to 37-34.
Nolte, from Milton, Ga., had a 3-pointer to end the modest Georgia Tech run.
Justin Anderson had 10 points for the Cavaliers but had several misses near the basket in the closing minutes.
Lines of unclaimed yellow foam fingers in empty rows of students seats behind the Georgia Tech band were evidence the game couldn’t lure some fans from Super Bowl pregame parties.
When it became clear about midway through the first half that the student seats would remain empty, personnel began collecting the foam fingers. Before the workers could return for their second swing through the empty seats, however, a line of young kids cleaned out the remaining souvenirs.