ATLANTA — Playing point guard for the first time in a while because he had to, Georgia Tech’s Brandon Alston looked comfortable Wednesday night while scoring a career-high 20 points to lead the short-handed Yellow Jackets to a 78-68 win over Texas-Rio Grande Valley with three players sidelined by NCAA suspensions.
Tech backup point guard Justin Moore was out after drawing a two-game suspension earlier in the day for violation of unspecified NCAA rules, and starting guards Josh Okogie and Tadric Jackson were already suspended for receiving benefits in violation of NCAA rules.
When starting point guard Jose Alvarado went to the bench with his fourth foul and 14:48 left in the game, Alston and freshman guard Curtis Haywood II took control of the offense for Georgia Tech (2-1).
In two seasons at Lehigh, the 6-foot-5 Alston played primarily forward, and three times peaked with 18 points. Wednesday, the graduate transfer was made 6-of-9 shooting, including 2-of-3 from 3-point range, and added six rebounds and an assist.
“I actually played point guard in high school… I haven’t really seen duty as much but it comes pretty natural to me,” Alston said. “I haven’t been getting a lot of opportunities, but our offense is pretty equal opportunity so the spots are pretty much the same on the court.”
UTRGV senior guard Nick Dixon scored 18 of his game-high 23 points in the second half, but he was the only player in double figures for the Vaqueros (3-3).
Alston had plenty of help as center Ben Lammers added 14 points and seven rebounds, forward Abdoulaye Gueye pitched in a career-high 13 with seven boards and freshman guard Curtis Haywood II contributed 11 points, six assists and four rebounds.
The Yellow Jackets expanded their 32-27 halftime lead to 19 points in the second half, when they shot 60 percent, and the Vaqueros — other than Dixon — combined to shoot 19 of 53 (35.8 percent). UTRGV made just 2 of 18 from long range, and Tech scored 25 points off the Vaqueros’ 16 turnovers.
“We had too many turnovers against the zone,” said UTRGV head coach Lew Hill. “I was pleased with everything but the turnovers … coming in here to play an ACC team is good for our guys.”
SUSPENSIONS STACK UP
Georgia Tech assistant coach Darryl LaBarrie also missed the game as he went on paid administrative leave earlier in the day as Georgia Tech is looking into recently alleged NCAA violations.
Head coach Josh Pastner declined to comment on LaBarrie or Moore other than to say, “For 40 years of my life I don’t know if there’s ever been a year that I’ve been alive or even in a basketball season where it’s just been smooth sailing.”
Pastner added: “Rarely do you navigate those waters without storms or rocky waves and we’re just in a little bit of a storm right now, but as I told our guys, there is no excuse. We’ve got to find a way to get it done.”
UTRGV: The Vaqueros were competitive in the first half despite the fact that Dixon didn’t score until 2:55 left before intermission, and second-leading scorer Xavier McDaniel Jr. went scoreless. McDaniel finished with a point.
Georgia Tech: Wednesday was the third and final game that Jackson will serve for suspension and Okogie has three games left on a six-game suspension.
Tech played just two subs in the first half, when all five of UTRGW’s reserves scored and they outscored Tech’s bench players 36-12 in the game. Freshman Greg Bowie, Mike Bowie and Lesley Varner Jr. had eight points each for the Vaqueros.
UTRGV will host Grambling State Saturday in just the third home game among its first 10 contests.
Georgia Tech will stay busy, playing host to North Texas Friday afternoon in their third game in six days in a stretch that will include six games in 15 days.