ATHENS, Ga. -- Georgia Tech had the national ranking, the gaudy record and a bunch of talented players.
None of it mattered.
The Yellow Jackets still can't figure out a way to win in Athens.
Trey Thompkins scored 20 points, Ricky McPhee hit two key baskets near the end and Georgia pulled off its first big victory for new coach Mark Fox, knocking off Georgia Tech (No. 17 ESPN/USA Today, No. 20 AP) 73-66 on Tuesday night.
Georgia, a team that had lost at home to Wofford and was coming off a 28-point blowout at Missouri three days earlier, defeated a team with one of the most touted freshman classes in the country. It was a loss sure to turn up the heat on Yellow Jackets coach Paul Hewitt, who looked up at the scoreboard in disbelief as the Bulldogs (8-5) pulled away.
"We are the better team," said Gani Lawal, who led Georgia Tech with 21 points. "We just didn't play like it tonight."
Georgia Tech (11-3) was trying to match its victory total from last season. Instead, the Yellow Jackets failed to break a long drought at Stegeman Coliseum, where they haven't won since Nov. 26, 1976.
"We really wanted to win this game," Lawal said, shaking his head. "It's a little tough to swallow."
With Georgia clinging to a 53-52 lead, Thompkins got loose inside, made the shot and was fouled by Lawal. A free throw completed the three-point play. After Lawal missed at the other end, Georgia took off running, Thompkins drew a foul and made both free throws for a 58-52 lead with 1:51 remaining.
"I was amped up," Thompkins said. "I wanted to defend my court."
With Georgia Tech trapping, McPhee got loose on the wing and swished an open 3-pointer for a 61-54 lead with 1:23 remaining. He followed with another basket off a drive, banking it in high off the backboard for his only two-point hoop of the game. Twelve of his 16 points came on 3-pointers; he added two free throws in the final minute to help seal the win.
"It means a lot to beat Georgia Tech and it means a lot to win a rivalry game," said Fox, who took over after the Bulldogs fired Dennis Felton and finished last season with an interim coach and a dismal 12-20 record. "It's a big win for us in a lot of ways and I told the kids to leave the gym feeling good about themselves, because they deserve it."
The Yellow Jackets went 3 of 12 from beyond the arc and looked lost trying to run their offense, managing only eight assists while turning it over 20 times.
"We had our chances but we couldn't cash in," Hewitt said. "They did."
Georgia completed a football-basketball sweep of its state rival, following an upset win on the gridiron with an even more improbable victory on the court.
"Just like football!" the red-and-black-clad fans chanted at the end in a half-filled arena.
Georgia Tech won only two games in the Atlantic Coast Conference last season. But Hewitt signed one of the nation's top-ranked recruiting classes and everyone expected a major turnaround, especially when Lawal decided to come back for another year rather than enter the NBA draft.
A talented roster isn't everything, though. McPhee, who walked on for the Bulldogs, doubled up Georgia Tech's top recruit, Derrick Favors, who got into foul trouble and was held to eight points
Each loss puts more pressure on Hewitt, who hasn't come close to matching his best season -- a 2004 run to the national championship game. It doesn't get any easier, either; next up is a home game Saturday against No. 5 Duke.
"As poorly as we played ... the game was right there," Hewitt said. "I still think this team has a pretty high ceiling."
Georgia showed right away it could hang with the Yellow Jackets, ripping off a 10-1 spurt that included a dunk by Thompkins and two straight baskets by Travis Leslie. Trailing 16-8, Georgia Tech was forced to call an early timeout just to slow the Bulldogs.
The Yellow Jackets' offensive ineptitude really showed up on the last possession. With plenty of time to set up a play, they couldn't even get off a shot.
At the start of the second half, Georgia Tech again looked to have the upper hand when a turnover and fast break led to Favors' dunk and a 36-33 lead. But Georgia didn't wilt, answering right back with Dustin Ware's 3-pointer.
The Bulldogs went ahead for good on Leslie's two free throws with 9:50 remaining, though they never led by more than eight and that margin came in the closing seconds when Georgia Tech was forced to foul.