Jan. 28, 2018
By Andy Demetra
– Josh Okogie brought new meaning to the phrase “bloodied but unbowed” Wednesday.
In the final minute of Georgia Tech’s 88-77 loss to Florida State, blood spouted out of the sophomore’s nose, the result of an inadvertent elbow on defense. By the time referees blew their whistles, a trail of blood some 20 feet long dotted the sideline in front of the scorer’s table. Florida State managers found splotches all the way on the other side of the paint (Pastner did say Okogie played with a high motor against the Seminoles).
His 16 points, career-high 16 rebounds and career high-tying five assists should have been proof enough. But if anyone doubted whether Okogie left it all on the floor Wednesday, he gave one last, literal piece of evidence.
On the heels of a three-game losing streak, the Yellow Jackets (10-10, 3-4 ACC) will try to follow Okogie’s lead when they return to McCamish Pavilion to face No. 18/17 Clemson (16-4, 5-3 ACC). Here are the top five notes I’ve mined out from my chart in preparation for Sunday’s matchup (6 p.m. EST, Georgia Tech IMG Sports Network):
Clemson has the record (16-4), the RPI (6) and the strength of schedule (5) to make it well-fortified for an NCAA Tournament bid. The Tigers, though, have to manage the rest of the regular season without their second leading scorer and rebounder, senior Donte Grantham (14.2 ppg, 6.9 rpg), who suffered a torn ACL in their Jan. 20 win over Notre Dame. In addition to his scoring ability – he made 41 percent of his threes – Grantham was an uncommonly good facilitator from the “4” spot.
Whether they struggled to adapt without Grantham, or whether Virginia’s defense simply played like, well, Virginia’s defense, Clemson found scoring a Sisyphean task Tuesday. The Cavaliers beat the Tigers 61-36, at one point holding them to six points in a 19:39 span.
Sunday’s game should offer a clearer picture of whether Clemson can withstand Grantham’s absence. They seem well-suited for it: four players still average in double figures, led by guards Marcquise Reed (15.5 ppg) and Shelton Mitchell (11.7 ppg). The Tigers run a set-heavy offense, with 6-9, 287-pound center Elijah Thomas getting post touches to pull in the defense and create rotations. Most of the Tigers’ plays end in a ball screen, and with six upperclassmen in the rotation, rarely do they get panic-stricken late in the shot clock.
Georgia Tech is 1-6 against teams ranked in the top 50 nationally in offensive efficiency. Clemson ranks 47th. After giving up 59-percent shooting to Florida State, can the Yellow Jackets communicate well in their ball screen coverages and return to their “5 guarding 1” mentality against the Tigers?
Among those in attendance in Tallahassee: Tadric Jackson’s mother and his two younger brothers. The Jacksons actually had a shorter commute from their home in Tifton, Ga., than they do to Atlanta. Jackson had a season-low two points against Florida State, but heads into Sunday’s game needing 17 points to reach 1,000 for his career.
Another reason why Clemson can withstand Grantham’s absence? The Tigers rank a hearty 10th in the nation in defensive efficiency. Two reasons help account for ii:
• The Tigers are a much improved defensive rebounding team from a year ago.
• They rarely allow opponents to get to the foul line. Clemson ranks 11th nationally, allowing 14.5 percent of its opponents’ points to come from free throws.
The Tigers ball pressure some, but not as heavily as Florida State. Expect a team that plays sound, shrewd team defense, which will put Georgia Tech’s recent turnover struggles to the test.
Take a look at Abdoulaye Gueye’s plus-minus in the first half against Florida State:
A.D. Gueye – First Half vs. FSU
On the floor: +3
Off the floor: -17
Gueye collected his third foul at the 7:25 mark, putting the brakes on a terrific, 9-point start for the junior. Coincidence or not, FSU’s Terance Mann scored 18 of his 21 first-half points after Gueye left. In addition to his scoring around the rim, Gueye’s sinewy, rangy frame allows him to cover space, switch on screens and close out on shooters.
Look for an interesting cat-and-mouse game Sunday with Gueye and center Ben Lammers. Do the Tigers put Thomas on Lammers in a traditional “big on big” matchup, even though Lammers can draw Thomas away from the rim? (Thomas leads Clemson in blocks and ranks fourth in the ACC in defensive rebounding percentage.) Or do the Tigers stick Thomas on Gueye, who has scored most of his points off post-ups lately, and gamble with a smaller “4” man on Lammers? Mark Donnal, a 6-9 graduate transfer from Michigan, could see more minutes if Clemson goes that route. Either way, Lammers feasted on the Tigers last year: the senior scored 23 and 25 points, the latter a career high, in two matchups against Clemson.
Since we started with him, it’s only fitting we end on him: Sunday’s game marks the one-year anniversary of Okogie’s buzzer-beating layup against Notre Dame at McCamish Pavilion. Okogie, by the way, finished last year averaging 16.1 points per game, the highest scoring average by a freshman since… Chris Bosh, who will be in attendance Sunday on his replica jersey night.
Now that we’re prepared, we hope you are as well. Join us for pregame coverage starting at 5:30 p.m. EST on the Georgia Tech IMG Sports Network. See you at McCamish. –AD–