RALEIGH — James Banks III stood at the line, preparing for two shots with his Georgia Tech team down one and a hostile NC State crowd roaring down on him from all sides.
Banks hit both free throws with 2.1 seconds left in overtime to help the Yellow Jackets beat the Wolfpack 82-81 on Tuesday night, giving him another clutch late-game moment in Raleigh along with a big comeback by Georgia Tech in a season-opening Atlantic Coast Conference matchup.
“I had confidence in the work I put in at the free-throw line that I was going to make it,” Banks said. “If you go up there with any doubt in your mind, that’s when something like that doesn’t happen.”
Maybe that’s why it keeps happening for Banks here.
It was as recently as March that Banks came up with another winning late-game play for the Yellow Jackets (1-0, 1-0 ACC) on the Wolfpack’s home court. In that one, he took a feed from Jose Alvarado and dunked in the go-ahead basket with 1.4 seconds left while being fouled.
He calmly made that free throw, too, to seal a 63-61 win.
“That’s 3 for 3 in the last 2 seconds of the last two years here for James making free throws, if you think about it,” Georgia Tech coach Josh Pastner said.
The shorthanded Wolfpack (0-1, 0-1) had one last chance, but Braxton Beverly’s long heave from just across halfcourt hit only the backboard — with Alvarado immediately emphatically pumping his fist while Banks began celebrating with teammates near midcourt.
Michael Devoe had 22 points to lead Georgia Tech, which rallied from 15 down in the first half. Banks finished with 20 points, 14 rebounds and five blocks for the Yellow Jackets, who shot 50% for the game.
C.J. Bryce scored 24 points for the Wolfpack, who didn’t have top player Markell Johnson due to an ankle injury. N.C. State shot 38% for the game and had a costly late turnover to set up Banks’ winning free throws.
“We’re not as polished as we need to be,” said Devon Daniels, who had 12 points for the Wolfpack. “Nobody is. We’re going to learn from it.”
Georgia Tech: The Yellow Jackets enter the season with returning experience and scoring punch, and it helped them hang in this one after the Wolfpack raced out to a fast start and build the double-digit lead. After repeatedly tying the game in the second half, the Yellow Jackets finally got their first lead in overtime then came up with the winning play.
“Based on us being older, we didn’t have to panic or we were splintered or anything,” Pastner said. “A younger team might do that.”
NC State: Kevin Keatts was shorthanded for this one at the start of Year 3 of his coaching tenure. Johnson’s absence robbed the Wolfpack of the team’s top player capable of taking over a game as well as its floor leader. And NC State was already without top returning big man DJ Funderburk, who has been suspended indefinitely by the team. Bryce carried the offensive load in the second half, including two free throws with 35.1 seconds left in OT for an 81-80 lead, but the Wolfpack couldn’t hang on.
A Frantic Finish
The Wolfpack had a chance to hang onto the lead late when Alvarado threw it away after Bryce’s free throws. Daniels pushed up court but forced a pass in transition for Manny Bates that went through the redshirt freshman big man’s hands.
The ball bounced loose toward the Wolfpack bench to set off a scramble before Khalid Moore came up with it to set up the winning possession.
“I should have just kept the ball and let them foul me,” Daniels said.
Instead, the Yellow Jackets pushed up the court for a missed 3-pointer by Alvarado. Moore got the offensive rebound and fed Banks in the paint for the whistle-drawing play.
Keatts wasn’t sure when Johnson would be ready to play after landing on a teammate’s foot during a practice in recent days.
“We wanted to be careful with him,” Keatts said.
Georgia Tech: The Yellow Jackets host Elon on Monday.
NC State: Detroit Mercy visits the Wolfpack on Sunday.