Two possessions later, forward Jordan Usher handed off to Maxwell on the right wing, setting a screen in the process. Maxwell launched and snapped the net, his fourth 3-pointer of the half. It capped a 13-2 run in which he had provided nine of the points and put the Jackets ahead 32-25 with 4:07 left in the first half.
“I felt like I was already getting confident, then I was like, O.K., I’m getting into the game, I’m feeling good with myself, and I just kept letting it fly,” Maxwell said.
Maxwell’s performance was part of an offensive breakout for the Jackets (7-8 overall, 1-4 ACC), who won for just the second time in the past nine games in picking up its first conference win of the season. Tech shot 50.9% from the field after having shot less than 42% in the previous six games. Pastner changed the starting lineup Wednesday, taking forward Jordan Meka out and replacing him with guard Deebo Coleman, creating a smaller lineup in which forward Jordan Usher played center as the focal point of Pastner’s Princeton offense.
With the offense running through Usher, the Jackets played more crisply as he repeatedly found teammates cutting to the basket for layups. He finished with 14 points on 6-for-12 shooting with five rebounds and four assists against three turnovers. Usher’s size disadvantage in the post also enabled Boston College center Quinten Post to score a career-high 24 points off the bench on 10-for-14 shooting, but it’s a tradeoff that Pastner (and Usher) was willing to make.
“Coach Pastner is one of my favorite people on earth,” Usher said. “He’s a real genuine dude. He cares about me. I would do anything for him. So if he asked me to play from the sideline the whole game, I would be disappointed, but I would do it. It’s nothing news. I just do as coach asks me. It got us a win.”
Tech had 17 assists, its most since the fourth game of the season, and was 11-for-25 (44%) from 3-point range. The Jackets had been at 30% or under from behind the 3-point arc in four of their previous six games.
“Our pace was better, our speed was better,” Pastner said. “That was a big deal. And then you’re getting stops, you’re flying around. We were smaller, but I thought we were quicker in some things and that allowed us to be better.”
After his first-half outburst, Maxwell came through with one of the biggest baskets of the game. Usher fouled out with 5:43 to go and just about all of the Jackets’ lead, which early in the second half had been as large as 12 points, gone. Two Post free throws cut the lead to 66-65. The Eagles took the lead and led by as many as four, and the Jackets’ offense struggled without Usher.
But after Tech guard Deivon Smith cut the lead to 72-70 with 3:23 left on a pair of free throws, Maxwell gave the Jackets the lead at 73-72 with another corner 3, this one off a pump fake with the shot clock running down. Two possessions later, guard Michael Devoe twice got his own rebound after missed shots and then found Maxwell for his last 3-pointer and a 76-72 lead with 1:17 left. That was the control Tech needed to seal the game.
“This is a great confidence booster for him,” Usher said. “I hope it continues and bleeds into the next game and the next game after that. I’m just super happy for him. I can’t express how happy I am. I see him every day. He’ a guy that I love.”
Remarkably, Maxwell almost didn’t have a chance to have his moment. Pastner said that he hurt his hand in practice Tuesday and that Maxwell told him via text message at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday, 3 1/2 hours before tipoff, that he couldn’t play. But, when the team arrived at the arena, he told Pastner he’d see how it felt and then decided to play. Playing with his right hand taped up, he evidently felt O.K.
“I just think the adrenaline got him going, and thank the basketball gods,” Pastner said. “He gave us a little extra energy on that, and we got the win.”