Jan. 12, 2017
By Andy Demetra, Voice of the Yellow Jackets
– Georgia Tech’s opening ACC stretch could scar the most experienced team, let alone one ESPN called the most inexperienced in the nation.
In No. 9 North Carolina, No. 8 Duke and No. 9 Louisville, the Yellow Jackets faced three straight top-10 opponents for the first time in school history. Tech finished 1-2 in that span, with a win over UNC and losses to Duke and Louisville.
But rather than feel bloodied, the Jackets feel emboldened.
“We realized that we can play with any team. We can hang out with anybody,” center Ben Lammers told me following Saturday’s 65-50 loss to the Cardinals.
But this is the ACC. “Taking a deep breath” is relative. The Jackets’ next opponent, the Clemson Tigers (11-4, 1-2 ACC), has five wins over RPI Top 50 opponents and presents its own set of challenges. Here are five key notes from my chart on tonight’s matchup at McCamish Pavilion (7 p.m. EST, Georgia Tech IMG Sports Network):
In a league awash with future first-round picks, Clemson’s Jaron Blossomgame may be one of the least talked-about. Yet the redshirt senior and first-team All-ACC forward has risen up draft boards thanks to his 18 points and 6 rebounds per game.
At 6-7 and 220 pounds, Blossomgame has an NBA, inside-out skill set, a finesse “four” able to both back down from the wide post or rip through on closeouts. While his three-point shooting has suffered this year (7-for-44 44 after 48 percent last year), Blossomgame also has a crafty, quick-release jump hook. The Alpharetta, Ga., native feasted on Tech last year, averaging 20.3 points and 5.0 rebounds across three games.
So who could be Blossomgame’s foil Thursday? Georgia Tech senior Quinton Stephens averaged 8.3 points and 6.7 rebounds in three games against Clemson last season, more than doubling his averages in both categories.
Quinton Stephens '15-16 PPG RPGvs. Clemson (3g) 8.3 6.7vs. Rest of ACC(17g) 3.5 3.2
For the last two games, Georgia Tech’s opponents have played frustratingly against type. Duke came in ranked 12th in the ACC in three-point percentage. The Blue Devils buried 16 of 31 from three. Louisville was ranked last in the league in three-point percentage; the Cardinals made 9 of 16.
Now comes Clemson, which ranks — gulp — 13th in the ACC in three-point percentage (35.0 percent). On his radio show Monday, Pastner told us the reasons for the spiked percentages were different in both games. Tech lagged in its rotations against Duke, leading to wide-open looks off “plus-one” passes. The Yellow Jackets tried to compact the interior against Louisville, daring the Cardinals to beat them from three (they only made 9 of 40 three-pointers in their first two ACC games).
Can Tech do a better job shaping up against Clemson’s ball-handlers, preventing them from breaking down the Jackets off the dribble? Pay attention to sixth man Marcquise Reed (45.9 percent on threes), guard Gabe DeVoe (4-7 on threes vs. Notre Dame) and guard Avry Holmes (8-17 on threes vs. ACC), who can all take advantage of kickouts and misshapen floors. Reed, in particular, might look to get reactivated following a season-low two points against Notre Dame.
Thursday’s game features a pair of point guards who came a long way from home. Clemson’s Avry Holmes hails from Salem, Ore., while Georgia Tech’s Justin Moore is a native of San Diego (hence the Padres-style “SD” tattooed on his triceps). So how did both players traverse the country to meet in tonight’s matchup? Moore first caught the attention of assistant Darryl LaBarrie while he was recruiting one of his close friends at Georgia State. Holmes’ high school coach in Oregon was a junior-college teammate of former Clemson assistant Earl Grant.
Lost amid Saturday’s loss: Louisville averaged 15.8 points per game off turnovers. Georgia Tech only allowed seven. Turnovers can also lead to fast breaks, yet Louisville also found those opportunities scarce: Georgia Tech outscored the Cardinals 6-4 in fast break points.
Ball security will once again be critical against Clemson, which leads the ACC in turnover margin (+4.6). Rather than trap or crowd ball-handlers, Clemson thrives on shooting gaps and getting open-floor steals. Pastner said his point guard trio of Josh Heath, Justin Moore and Corey Heyward need to be “simple, sound and solid” in running Tech’s offense.
Looking for a barometer for the Yellow Jackets’ success? Check out the combined offensive rating of Stephens and junior Tadric Jackson:
Points FGA ORatingWins 203 150 104.1Losses 91 102 73.7
Lammers has been his normal, steady self, and freshman Josh Okogie has turned heads with his stat lines. But when Georgia Tech has won, its veterans have often been the key. Now that we’re prepared, we hope you are as well. Our pregame coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. EST on the Georgia Tech IMG Sports Network. See you at McCamish.