By Andy Demetra | Voice of the Yellow Jackets
No need to over-complicate it, Josh Pastner said. Basketball, at its essence, is a make-or-miss game.
Exhibit A: Georgia Tech had open looks Wednesday but only made 4 of 21 three-pointers in a 57-49 loss to No 9 Virginia.
Exhibit B: Georgia Tech had open looks last month but made 16 of 27 threes in an 83-65 rout of No. 20 Clemson.
Those games stand in stark contrast to one another, but they illustrate Pastner’s point just the same. Georgia Tech (9-7, 5-5 ACC) now heads to Clemson (12-5, 6-5 ACC) on Friday facing an entirely different kind of make-or-miss situation. The Yellow Jackets missed their chance at a resume-boosting win over the Cavaliers Wednesday. They can make up for it with a Quadrant 1 road win over a rested, revenge-minded Tigers team Friday.
Enjoy the top notes, quotes and anecdotes from my chart as Georgia Tech looks to leave Littlejohn Coliseum the same way it did last year – with a stirring Friday night win over the Tigers (8 p.m. ET, Georgia Tech Sports Network from Learfield IMG College):
Michael Devoe dropped six of Tech’s 16 three-point field goals in the Yellow Jackets’ win over Clemson on Jan. 20. (photo by Danny Karnik)
Those 16 three-pointers helped Tech to a head-spinning efficiency rating of 1.32 points per possession against Clemson. It turned out to be the Jackets’ highest PPP average in an ACC game in the KenPom era (2002-present).
Highest efficiency ratings vs. ACC opponents (2002-present)
Date Opponent PPP Opp. Def. Efficiency Ranking
1/20/21 Clemson 1.327 12*
1/4/20 North Carolina 1.322 94
3/2/05 Wake Forest 1.30 89
2/27/02 Wake Forest 1.30 126
*Ranking at time of game; all others represent end-of-season ranking
Making it even more impressive: the Tigers, then and now, have the ACC’s best defensive efficiency rating.
It wasn’t just that Tech made its shots against Clemson, but how they set them up. They cut hard, which forced Clemson to extend its help. They didn’t overcommit on dribble drives “engage, don’t marry,” in Pastner parlance – which would have bogged down possessions and led to turnovers. They had strong pick-ups at the elbow and blocks. They seized on transition opportunities, outscoring Clemson 19-4 in fast break points. And most obviously, they buried their threes off skips and swing passes, which in turn opened the driving lanes that Clemson’s defense usually cordons off.
In spite of its performance last month, Clemson still plays physically, helps hard from the baseline, and makes it a grind for teams to score in the halfcourt. Can players like Jordan Usher (4 for his last 21) and Moses Wright (1 for his last 9) knock down some threes like they did at McCamish, and help be the anti-venom to the Tigers’ defense?
As Randy Waters astutely pointed out, Clemson’s rotation features center Jonathan Baehre (pronounced “Bear”) and guard Clyde Trapp.
Yes, the Tigers can spring a “Baehre Trapp” on opposing offenses.
It may come as little consolation, but Virginia came in to Wednesday’s game committing the fewest turnovers per game in the nation (8.8).
Georgia Tech forced its eighth turnover by the 8:12 mark of the first half.
The Cavaliers became the third ACC team to suffer a season-worst turnover rate at the hands of the Yellow Jackets, joining Florida State and … Clemson.
With his 21 points in Tech’s Jan. 20 win over Clemson, Jordan Usher was one of three Jackets to score 20 or more, the first time that had happened since 1998. (photo by Danny Karnik)
Rout and all, Clemson did shoot 52 percent against Tech last month. But the Jackets counteracted that by forcing 20 turnovers from the Tigers. Pastner cited the Jackets’ “hand activity” as a major reason why.
Already a set-heavy team to begin with, Clemson has introduced even more new offensive plays since its last meeting with Tech. Head coach Brad Brownell has also made several changes to his lineup, among them starting 5-11 Fordham transfer Nick Honor to give the Tigers more scoring punch from outside. Honor (40.5% 3pt.) sank several NBA-range threes in Clemson’s 78-61 win over Syracuse last weekend. The Tigers have also gotten a lift from Trapp, a 6-4 guard who listed Georgia Tech among his final four schools coming out of Eastover, S.C. In addition to scoring 14 points against the Jackets, Trapp dished out a career-high 11 assists against Syracuse; he has a knack for finding the open man off curls, similar to the way Virginia runs its players off curls on the wings.
Even with those changes, the main mismatch-maker remains 6-8 center Aamir Simms, the Tigers’ leader in points (12.6), rebounds (6.2) and assists (2.6 apg). Pastner calls Simms “a three-dimensional player” comparable to Draymond Green in the way he can shoot, pass and rebound. The senior scored 19 points against Tech last month, but his night felt disjointed due to foul trouble. He’s also arguably the best passing big man in the ACC, but he’s committed 15 turnovers in his last three games against Tech.
Clemson is coming off its highest offensive rating of the season against Syracuse. Can Tech short-circuit that efficiency with more turnovers in the rematch?
“Lethal Weapon 3” made it routine. In reality it’s quite rare.
In 1989-90, the trio of Dennis Scott, Brian Oliver and Kenny Anderson all averaged more than 20 points per game for the season, a feat that will likely never be touched again. The Jackets, though, gave a pretty fair imitation last month when Michael Devoe (22), Jordan Usher (21) and Moses Wright (21) all topped the 20-point mark against Clemson.
Prior to that, the last time Tech had three players finish with 20 or more points in a regulation game was 23 years ago this weekend. Matt Harpring, Eddie Elisma and Michael Maddox all hit the mark in a 105-86 win over Virginia Feb. 14, 1998.
Jose Alvarado, incidentally, surpassed Maddox (who had been in 25th place) on Georgia Tech’s all-time scoring list against Virginia. Alvarado moved all the way to 23rd place.
Now that we’re prepared, we hope you are as well. Join us for pregame coverage starting at 7:30 p.m. ET on the Georgia Tech Sports Network from Learfield IMG College. See you at Clemson.