The former McEachern High School star scored 16 points, including six clutch free throws in the final seconds, and the Yellow Jackets stunned struggling and seventh-ranked Syracuse 67-62 on Tuesday night.
“I kind of went back to when I was a kid and just knocked them in,” said Golden, who was 8-of-8 from the free-throw line. “My dad used to make me nervous when I was younger. It made me think about that calm. It really helped me out.”
Syracuse (26-4, 13-4 Atlantic Coast Conference) started the season with 25 straight wins and spent three weeks at No. 1.
“I’m not happy with (Tuesday), but I’m very happy to be 26-4,” coach Jim Boeheim said. “We’re well ahead of predictions. We just have to regroup.
“I try to look at the big picture and not snapshots. We’re in good position. When you get in the (NCAA) tournament, you’re going to play somebody good. You play good, you have a chance to win. You play well, seeding doesn’t matter. It’s as simple as that.”
Georgia Tech (14-16, 5-12) snapped a four-game losing streak, and its previous five ACC road trips had produced two wins, an overtime loss, a three-point loss, a four-point loss and a 10-point loss.
Getting healthier by the day, the Yellow Jackets, who at one point in the season had only seven scholarship players available, closes the regular season against Virginia Tech on Saturday with the conference tournament looming next week.
“Big might be an understatement. It’s a huge win for us,” Golden said. “We beat one of the top teams in the country.”
Last season, Syracuse stumbled down the stretch of the regular season, losing four of its final five games, the last a humbling 61-39 loss at former Big East archrival Georgetown. The Orange responded by winning three straight games in the Big East tournament, losing to eventual national champion Louisville in the title game, and then went on to the Final Four.
“It didn’t end the way I wanted it to,” said C.J. Fair, who matched his career high with 28 points in the final home game of his career. “It happened, but our season’s not over. I still have a chance to win my last game.”
The loss cost the Orange a great chance to lock up a high seed in the conference tournament.
Jerami Grant, the Orange’s leading rebounder, had been hobbled by back problems the past two games and watched in street clothes as freshman Tyler Roberson made his first start of the season. Grant’s absence was felt as only Fair and freshman Tyler Ennis, with 18 points, scored in double figures.
“Not having him, he’s a big part of our team,” Fair said of Grant. “It could have been a different game if he was there. You never know, but it’s a big blow to the team.”
Georgia Tech had 18 assists and shot 24-of-51 from the field while committing only nine turnovers.
“I thought our guys did a great job of executing the game plan in terms of taking care of the basketball, moving the basketball, getting it underneath the zone and making plays for each other,” Georgia Tech coach Brian Gregory said. “We’ve had some tough times this year. This was a total team effort.”
Daniel Miller had 15 points and six blocks and Robert Carter Jr. added 12 points for Georgia Tech.
Fair was 12-of-25 from the field and Ennis finished with seven assists. Trevor Cooney had only seven points and was 1-of-8 from behind the arc.
Syracuse, which also lost at home to Boston College, closes the season at Florida State on Sunday.
“We’re just eager to get that win,” Fair said. “Once we win a couple of consecutive games, that will get us going.”