GREENSBORO, N.C. - A season of close calls and near-misses culminated in predictable style for Georgia Tech at the Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament on Friday.
This defeat - a 71-65 loss to North Carolina State in the quarterfinals - hit the Yellow Jackets especially hard and left Georgia Tech questioning its abilities and motivation.
"If we don't correct whatever it is that stops us from getting over the hump, somewhere down the road in life, it's going to cost you more than a basketball game," Georgia Tech coach Paul Hewitt told his team after the game. "You've got to compete, and we talked about that all week. When that moment comes up you've got to be ready to do whatever it is you have to do."
For the first 10 minutes of the second half, Georgia Tech looked like it was ready.
The Yellow Jackets (14-14) rallied from a 34-25 halftime deficit and led 56-51 after a layup by Isma'il Muhammad with 8:33 remaining.
But as has happened throughout the season, Georgia Tech couldn't seal the victory. The Yellow Jackets have lost 10 games by eight points or less.
The Wolfpack, 17-11 and fighting for their NCAA Tournament life, scored the next seven points - five from Marcus Melvin - to pull ahead for good. In that span, Georgia Tech had one turnover, one missed field goal and a missed free throw on the front end of a one-and-one.
N.C. State didn't stop there, outscoring Georgia Tech 20-9 during the final 8:11.
"We had more than enough chances, but I guess that's been the story of our season," Hewitt said. "We continue to let some great opportunities slip through our hands."
Freshman forward Chris Bosh (14 points, 10 rebounds) cried in the locker room after the game.
"After you lose and you have that sour taste in your mouth, you don't like it. I hate it. I hate losing. I know all my teammates hate losing," Bosh said. "You remember that pain, and you don't want to feel it anymore, so you do whatever it takes not to feel it anymore."
The Yellow Jackets haven't been able to determine exactly what it takes. Friday it was a bit of defensive communication and effort.
N.C. State made 11 of 21 3-pointers, many coming on open looks because of poor defensive switching on screens. Scooter Sherrill made five of eight 3-pointers, and Melvin connected on three of eight, including one after Georgia Tech had stretched the lead to five.
On that shot, Ed Nelson failed to fight through a screen and Melvin drilled his shot from the top of the key.
Josh Powell scored a game-high 18 points on 8-for-11 shooting. Powell also grabbed eight rebounds and blocked six shots.
"You really can't pinpoint a certain play, it's just all of them adding up. You just have to make plays the entire game," Bosh said. "You have to realize that you have to play the whole game. You have to play hard the whole game." All the sermonizing after the fact couldn't change a thing. Hewitt, who has been unable to find the right combination all year, took much of the blame on himself.
"I'm surprised I wasn't able to find it. I'm disappointed I wasn't able to find it or to push the right buttons," he said. "I'm more disappointed in myself that I wasn't able to figure out what it was to get us for the hump." It's a feeling that filled the Yellow Jackets' locker room.
"We're always close," junior guard Marvin Lewis said.
"You get kind of tired of being close. You want to win."