Feb. 21, 2017
By Andy Demetra | Georgia Tech Radio
– The thrill had barely subsided Sunday before Georgia Tech turned its attention to NC State, its next opponent in this closing stretch of 2017. A two-day turnaround, a wounded opponent looking for revenge, a high lottery pick ready to show out – the Yellow Jackets (16-11, 7-7 ACC) didn’t have to look far to find their focus. And if you judge a team based on the quality of its best win, NC State (14-14, 3-12 ACC) upset Duke at Cameron Indoor, the same place where Tech was clobbered by 53 points.
The Yellow Jackets couldn’t rest long. Now they can’t rest easy, either.
As you get ready for tip-off, here are my five favorite notes on Tuesday’s matchup at McCamish Pavilion (8 p.m. EST, Georgia Tech IMG Sports Network):
What did Georgia Tech do best in its first meeting with the Wolfpack, an 86-76 win in Raleigh January 15? Three observations from courtside at PNC Arena:
• The Jackets shot the three well. At the time of their meeting, Tech ranked last in the country in made three-pointers per game. They finished 10 of 16 against the Wolfpack. Along with 82 percent free throw shooting (14 of 17), Georgia Tech averaged 1.23 points per possession against NC State, by far its highest of the season against a Division I opponent.
• The Jackets moved the ball well. Tech finished with 24 assists on 31 made field goals (77.4 percent), a season high for a team that’s already on pace for its best assist rate in 24 years. Josh Heath was especially sharp, dishing out a career-high 10 assists. During its seven-game losing streak, NC State’s defense has ranged from uneven to uninterested. Can Tech continue to play unselfishly, forcing the Pack to play sound, uncomfortable, disciplined defense?
• The Jackets kept NC State’s Abdul Malik-Abu off the glass. Abdul-Abu, the Wolfpack’s top offensive rebounder, only managed one against Tech. Pastner said Quinton Stephens – who also recorded a career high-tying 22 points against NC State – did a great job bodying out the 6-8, 240-pound power forward. The Wolfpack could never establish a consistent post presence.
When breaking down Syracuse’s Andrew White III, Josh Pastner extoled the concept of “5 guarding 1.” Essentially, defending a lethal scorer isn’t a one-man job. The other four players need to be positioned well off the ball, so they can scare away dribble-drives, clog lanes to the rim, and recover well in case that player passes out. The Jackets adhered to that concept Sunday: White was held below 20 points for the first time in seven games, and the Orange had their worst offensive efficiency in an ACC game this season (0.93 points per possession).
That same “5 versus 1” concept will apply against Dennis Smith, Jr., NC State’s über-athletic guard and likely ACC Freshman of the Year. Smith (18.9 ppg, 6.6 apg) scored 31 points against Tech on Jan. 15, but the Yellow Jackets forced him into taking tougher shots in the second half. Smith will get his points Tuesday; can Tech make him score inefficiently? And can they recover well so players like Terry Henderson (38.8 pct. 3pt.) and Maverick Rowan (38.2 pct. 3pt.) don’t get clean spot-ups from outside?
Not to be outdone by Smith, freshman Josh Okogie poured in 27 points in the win over the Wolfpack. As he approaches a near-certain Freshman All-ACC season, there’s another part of Okogie’s resume that deserves attention. According to KenPom.com, Okogie averages 6.6 fouls drawn per 40 minutes, tops among all freshmen in the ACC and second to Wake Forest’s John Collins overall. He also ranks second nationally among all freshman guards.
How else can Okogie help Tuesday? In their last three home games, the Yellow Jackets have trailed by 9, 15 and 10 points in the first half (though after our radio show Monday, Pastner said he didn’t think there was a common cause for those deficits). The Wolfpack could be in a fragile state of mind Tuesday; the Jackets can’t let them gain any confidence with a slow start.
Tadric Jackson splashed down a three-pointer as time expired in the first half Sunday, cutting the Jackets’ deficit to three. Then in the second half, he knocked down a three from the left wing, stretching Tech’s lead to a game-high 12.
Both of the junior’s threes came at opportune times Sunday, and underscored a point that’s worth revisiting. From an individual standpoint, it might be the clearest separator yet between Georgia Tech’s ACC wins and losses.
In Tech’s 7 ACC wins, Jackson shoots 41.7% from three (10 of 24).
In Tech’s 7 ACC losses, Jackson shoots 11.1% (2 of 14).
No pressure, Tadric. Though he continued to do three-point shooting drills after practice Monday, 15 minutes after his teammates had cleared the court.
And finally, proof that humor is sometimes best found in hindsight:
A CBS Sports article, May 2016: NC State “might wind up being a sleeper pick to be top-two in the ACC.”
A CBS Sports tweet, October 2016 (you may have heard of it): “Yellow Jackets won’t win a game in ACC play this season.”
Now that we’re prepared, we hope you are as well. Our pregame coverage starts at 7:30 p.m. EST Tuesday on the Georgia Tech IMG Sports Network. See you at McCamish.