Feb. 5, 2011
By Matt Winkeljohn
Depending on how you like your defense, Georgia Tech played well Saturday.
Perspective, however, need be applied.
Clemson turned the ball over 20 times. That wasn’t a big surprise as the Tigers entered the game averaging more turnovers per ACC game (14) than all but two teams, and Tech led the league in opponents’ turnovers (17.4 per game) and steals (10.0).
Other metrics, however, are more important.
For starters, any game in which a team surrenders a 22-0 run – as the Jackets did in the first half – is going to be tough to win. The fact that Tech battled back to tie the game at 40 early in the second half was a testament to the Jackets’ passion. That was not an issue in Alexander Memorial Coliseum.
The key to Clemson’s 65-56 win was largely that Tech’s defense has become feast-or-famine. To simplify, if the Jackets don’t turn you over, chances are they’re going to allow a high-percentage shot.
Clemson made 21 of 37 (56.8 percent), and half its 14 3-point tries, and that was a step down.
When the Tigers beat Tech last month, they set various school shooting records by making 69.2 percent of their shots, and 78.6 percent of their treys (11 of 14). The second half was especially onerous for the Jackets as Clemson made all nine of its 3-point tries, and 17 of 20 shots (85 percent) overall.
Even in that game, the Tigers had 20 turnovers. There is a theme herein.
Brad Brownell, the Clemson coach, noted after the game that Tech “gets up into you” on defense, but burnished that compliment by adding that if you’re strong with the ball and get by Tech’s pressure, “you can get into good places” to score. Might not be his exact words; I didn’t tape that part but I heard it.
Translating: the Jackets are going to come at you, and if you weather that burst, you’re often going to have a good shot to score. Maryland beat Tech repeatedly off the dribble and to the goal last Sunday in AMC, and that game and the Clemson contests were not exceptions to any rule.
Tech leads the ACC in turnover margin by a considerable gap (+3.8 per game relative to No. 2 Maryland’s 2.4), yet the Jackets entered the game No. 9 in the ACC in field goal defense (43.4 percent) and last in 3-point defense (.382). In ACC games, the Jackets were No. 9 in field goal defense (.439) and No. 11 in 3-point defense (.389), ahead of only Wake Forest (.396).
The Jackets had their share of offensive problems Saturday, when leading scorers Iman Shumpert (5 of 15) and Glen Rice, Jr. (3 of 13) struggled, Tech made just 2 of 15 3-pointers and at times the Jackets were whipping the ball around a little extra, perhaps, coach Paul Hewitt said, because, “Maybe guys are worried about missing a shot.”
Tech needed 14 more shot attempts to make the same number of field goals as Clemson (21), and the Jackets made five fewer treys.
A team can win with ragged offense, however, if it limits mistakes (Tech had 18 turnovers of its own), and makes the other team earn what it gets. “I thought in the first half . . . we were closing out probably a little too hard (on shooters, as Clemson made 12 of 20 shots, including 5 of 10 3-pointers),” Hewitt said. “We were better in the second half.”
The root of Tech’s malaise lies on defense. Are the Jackets too aggressive there?
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