ATLANTA — Brian Gregory doesn't want his Georgia Tech players to aim for being the surprise team in this week's Atlantic Coast Conference tournament.
Gregory wants his players focused only on small steps, not four-day runs, in the tournament. Georgia Tech has lost in the first round the last two years. The Yellow Jackets didn't win back-to-back regular-season conference games this year.
The ACC tournament is Georgia Tech's last chance to show it can win — and then win again — in the league.
"You go into the tournament and you think you've got to win the first game before you worry about shocking the world," said Gregory, in his second season as coach. "The momentum builds. Over the last two years we haven't won the first game so we've got to look at the right steps to take. The only thing we're worried about and the only thing we're concentrating on is that first game on Thursday."
Georgia Tech (16-14) has battled inconsistency. It closed the regular season with Saturday's loss at Boston College after a big win at then-No. 6 Miami. The Yellow Jackets will play Boston College in a rematch in Thursday's first round of the tournament in Greensboro, N.C.
"Hopefully after the disappointment on Saturday our guys will be highly motivated on Thursday afternoon," Gregory said.
The Georgia Tech-Boston College winner plays Miami, the ACC regular-season champion, on Friday.
The Yellow Jackets lost their first five ACC regular-season games before finishing 6-12. Five conference losses were by no more than five points, including the 74-72 loss to Boston College on Saturday. Georgia Tech led the Eagles by 10 points in the second half but couldn't complete the back-to-back ACC wins Gregory said would have been important for the program.
"It would have been a huge step in terms of the mental toughness I think this program needs to keep moving forward," Gregory said. "It was unfortunate we didn't have that."
The close loss could give the Yellow Jackets extra momentum for the rematch.
"We've got to play the whole game, not just get our lead and relax," said center Daniel Miller, who said Boston College's players turned the game around after trailing by 10.
"They called their timeout when we were up by 10 and they came out just outhustling us and playing harder with more intensity. We've just got to keep playing. That's a team we can beat and we have to go out and do it."
Georgia Tech's No. 9 seed in the tournament is its highest since 2010, when the Yellow Jackets advanced to the championship game as a No. 7 seed. That tournament also was held in Greensboro.
Senior point guard Mfon Udofia is the team's only player who has won a tournament game at Georgia Tech. The team's only other senior, Pierre Jordan, is a graduate transfer from Florida State.
Udofia said the key is "just sticking together."
"Everybody knows it's desperation time," Udofia said. "Every game, we can go home. You win and keep going or you lose and it's over with.
"When you're a senior in my case, if you lose it's over with. Your college career is over with. That's why you have to make sure you're ready."
Georgia Tech has started three freshmen through most of its conference schedule. Marcus Georges-Hunt leads the team with 10.4 points per game. Robert Carter Jr. is next with 10 points per game and he leads the team in rebounding. Chris Bolden, the third freshman starter, averaged 9.5 points per game in the conference.
Bolden had 21 points in last week's win at Miami.
Gregory said the loss to Boston College took away any positive carryover from the win at Miami.
"Well, if there was we got slapped in the face with reality that those are the highs and lows in a (four)-day period," Gregory said.
"We kind of felt everything with the exuberance we had and the disappointment. That's what this league is about. If you don't compete at a high level for 40 minutes you're not going to be successful."
Miller, a junior, is looking for his first postseason win. Last year, the Yellow Jackets lost to Miami in the first round at Philips Arena in Atlanta.
"I wouldn't say it's embarrassing because you lose to good teams but it's just hard to leave there playing one game and heading out," Miller said. "Last year we were right here so we went straight back to the room. When we're out on the road, it's a quiet plane ride home. It's just tough."