Feb. 1, 2017
By Andy Demetra | Georgia Tech Radio
– As they enter the second half of ACC play, Georgia Tech has earned what so few thought imaginable at the beginning of the season.
At 13-8, 5-4 in the ACC, the Yellow Jackets have become the talk of the ACC. But they also know the league can humble you just as quickly. Their opponent Wednesday, the Clemson Tigers (12-8, 2-6 ACC), knows that well. The Tigers entered the year with NCAA Tournament aspirations; they now find themselves trying to claw out of the bottom of the ACC.
In addition to urgency, Clemson will be fueled by revenge Wednesday: the Yellow Jackets beat them 75-63 in their first meeting at McCamish Pavilion.
Life as a target – even if informally – begins tonight. Here are my five best notes from my chart in preparation for Wednesday’s bout at Littlejohn Coliseum (7 p.m. EST, Georgia Tech IMG Sports Network):
At least he had a good seat for it.
Okogie missed them both, forcing him to stay in.
Heyward instead had a scorer’s table-eye view for Okogie’s, last-second layup. He may not have been on the floor for the finish, but the senior from Duluth, Ga., still logged a career-high 38 minutes in the 62-60 win over the Irish. Though he didn’t score a point, Heyward’s defense on 6-6 guard Steve Vasturia proved invaluable. Vasturia, who had Notre Dame’s second-highest KenPom offensive rating, finished with a season-worst 66 Orating (1-7 FG, 1-5 on 3s, 5 points).
Heyward will need to bring that same pestering presence to Clemson’s guards, namely senior Avry Holmes (46 pct. 3pt. ACC) and three-point super subs Marcquise Reed (43.8 pct.) and Gabe Devoe (37.8 pct.). Pastner said he was most worried about Devoe getting hot in their initial meeting.
What else has changed with Clemson? Leading scorer Jaron Blossomgame (18.4 ppg, 5.8 rpg) has started to heat up from three. When they played at McCamish, Blossomgame was mired in a 7-for-46 stretch from three-point range. He went 0 for 2 against the Jackets, mirroring the Tigers’ malaise from three that night (7 of 24).
Since then, Blossomgame has made 9 of his last 15, and sank a career-high four three-pointers in a win over Pittsburgh Saturday. Though he scored 20 points in Atlanta, the Jackets made it a “hard 20.” Quinton Stephens did a good job early of denying Blossomgame’s power drives from the baseline and high post.
Pastner has long said he wants his team to make more free throws than its opponent attempts. That can be tricky against Clemson, which ranks third in the nation in Free Throw Rate Defense (FTA / FGA) – essentially, how often a team shoots free throws relative to how often it shoots from the field. Though not as formidable defensively as past Brad Brownell teams, the Tigers at least don’t concede free throw trips.
And yet, Georgia Tech’s Free Throw Rate against Clemson Jan. 12 (32.7 pct.) was the highest the Tigers have allowed in ACC play. And equally aggravating, opponents average 76.6 percent at the free throw line against the Tigers – the highest percentage in the nation. Georgia Tech did its part last month, converting 17 of 19. How else can Georgia Tech, a team with “severe offensive limitations” according to Pastner, get high-percentage points in the absence of free throws? Try offensive rebounding – statistically, Clemson is the fourth-worst defensive rebounding team in major-conference basketball (#324 NCAA defensive rebounding percentage). Can the Jackets continue to cut hard and move the ball well to test the chops of the Tigers’ defense?
Georgia Tech’s unselfishness is reflected in a number of ways – assist rate, defense, embracing of roles. It’s also reflected in its rebounding: Tech is the only team in the ACC with two players ranked in the top 10 in rebounds per game.
Stephens set a career high with 13 boards against Virginia Tech – then equaled it against Virginia and Notre Dame.
Clemson ranks last in the ACC in rebounding margin. Can the Jackets’ relentlessness on the glass deny the Tigers any chances for open floor runs?
In honor of National Signing Day, it should come as no surprise that Tadric Jackson put some zip on his game-winning assist against Notre Dame. Jackson was the varsity starting quarterback at Tift County High in Tifton, Ga., as a freshman.
Now that we’re prepared, we hope you are as well. Our pregame coverage starts at 6:30 p.m. EST on the Georgia Tech IMG Sports Network. See you at Clemson.