ATLANTA (AP) — After earning a starting position to open the season, Evan Cole spent almost two months trying to fully recover from an ankle sprain.
The sophomore forward is healthy again, just in time for the start of Georgia Tech's Atlantic Coast Conference schedule.
Cole scored a career-high 16 points, Michael Devoe matched his high with 14, and Georgia Tech pulled away with a 9-0 run that started in the closing minutes of the opening half to beat South Carolina Upstate 79-63 on Wednesday night.
"It was tough going from working my tail off all fall and earning a starting position to getting hurt," Cole said, adding "I feel good."
Georgia Tech (8-5) led the full second half in its final warmup for its ACC opener against Wake Forest.
Cole missed seven of nine games after spraining his left ankle against Tennessee on Nov. 13. He came off the bench against SC Upstate but could eventually work his way back into the starting five.
"Possibly," said coach Josh Pastner. "We'll see how that goes."
Malik Moore led SC Upstate (5-10) with 18 points. Deion Holmes had 12. The Spartans couldn't overcome 30.8-percent shooting from the field, including only 7 of 31 (22.6 percent) 3-pointers.
"If you can't make those wide-open shots on the road, you're not going to win," said Spartans first-year coach Dave Dickerson.
After leading 26-25, Georgia Tech scored the final seven points of the first half for a 33-25 halftime advantage. Curtis Haywood II, who had 10 points, sank a 3-pointer, followed by a steal and a layup, to highlight the closing run. Devoe opened the second half with two free throws, stretching the streak to 9-0 for a 35-25 lead.
SC Upstate answered with eight straight points but couldn't again pull even.
Spartans freshman center Nevin Zink fouled out with 5:28 remaining after scoring six points.
SC Upstate: The Spartans, who started three freshmen, fell behind in the first half when they made only 2 of 16 3s and three of eight free throws. They improved their free-throw shooting in the second half to finish 16 of 26. "Playing on an ACC court, that's just tough for us and the inexperience we have," Dickerson said.
Georgia Tech: The Yellow Jackets continue to use a deep bench, with nine players logging more than 10 minutes. Pastner may shorten his rotation for the ACC schedule, but he's making no promises. "I prefer to keep a shorter rotation but we'll do what we need to do to find a way," he said.
BANKING ON BANKS
The Yellow Jackets won easily despite only four points from James Banks III, who posted double-doubles in four of his previous six games, including 14 points and 14 rebounds in a win at Arkansas. "James has to be better for us. I told him that," Pastner said, adding that Banks was "like a lottery pick" against Arkansas "and then this game he was sort of out of it. ... That's part of his maturation. He has to be a counter. He's good enough to do that."
Georgia Tech led 53-42 when Malik Moore had a steal and an open path to the basket before banging an attempted jam off the back of the rim. Khalid Moore scored at the other end of the court, followed by a quick basket from Brandon Alston to give the Yellow Jackets their biggest lead at 57-42.
SC Upstate: The Spartans begin their first year in the Big South when they visit Presbyterian College in their conference opener on Saturday.
Georgia Tech: The Yellow Jackets will play their first two conference games at home. After opening their ACC schedule on Saturday against Wake Forest, the Jackets play host to Virginia Tech on Jan. 9.
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