Feb. 26, 2017
By Andy Demetra | Georgia Tech Radio
– Georgia Tech nearly topped its buzzer beater against Notre Dame with an even more epic encore against NC State. Alas, Tadric Jackson’s three-pointer fell short Tuesday, and the Yellow Jackets couldn’t overcome the tired legs, missed layups, and lost 50-50 balls which led to a 71-69 defeat to the Wolfpack.
That now has the Yellow Jackets (16-12, 7-8 ACC) in search of another boost to their postseason resume – and ironically, that next opportunity takes them to South Bend, where they’ll reunite with the 21st-ranked Fighting Irish (21-7, 10-5 ACC).
Here are the five most notable stories from my chart in preparation for Sunday’s matchup at Purcell Pavilion (6:30 p.m. EST, Georgia Tech IMG Sports Network):
Josh Okogie’s layup as time expired is what everyone will remember from that 62-60 upset of the Irish January 28. But there were plenty of other reasons to explain the Jackets’ win – and it began with turnovers and defensive shape.
On the surface, Notre Dame’s 11 turnovers against Tech don’t look noteworthy. But the Irish rank third in the nation in turnover percentage (TO%), coughing it up on only 14.5 percent of their offensive possessions. Against Georgia Tech, that number ballooned to 17.5 percent, the Irish’s highest percentage in their last nine games. Individually, no one had a better game than senior Corey Heyward, who blanketed 6-5 guard Steve Vasturia (14.0 ppg) into 1-of-7 field goal shooting.
The Irish remain a bold, unrelenting three-point shooting team. Senior VJ Beachem, who scored a team-high 23 points against the Jackets, knocked down a career-high seven threes in their last game against NC State a week ago. Junior Matt Farrell, a heady guard who drives zones and runs off screens well, ranks third in the ACC in three-point percentage (43.3 percent). Look for Notre Dame to make a more concerted effort to stretch out Tech in the halfcourt, lessening the risk for deflections and creating more drive-and-kick opportunities for its shooters. Vasturia, whom Heyward smothered in Atlanta, could be an X factor: he’s only made two of his last 15 three-pointers. Can the Yellow Jackets, fortified by their defense all season long, keep their structure and not allow clean looks from three?
How much has Quinton Stephens transformed his floor game? His 10 rebounds against NC State marked the ninth time that Stephens has finished with double-digit rebounds this year. Stephens only had one double-digit rebounding game in his first three seasons.
Okogie’s buzzer beater was one of the seminal moments of the season, but it wasn’t terra incognita for the freshman. Okogie told me he hit a buzzer-beating three-pointer as a sophomore at Snellville High in Snellville, Ga.
That last shot masked an otherwise ordinary day for the soon-to-be Freshman All-ACC guard (8 points, 3-5 FG, 4 turnovers in 18 minutes). As much as his scoring has paced the Jackets this year, Okogie’s defense could be more vital Sunday. Pastner says Notre Dame is the rare team whose players are just as dangerous off the ball as they are with it.
Despite the presence of junior Bonzie Colson, the ACC’s leading rebounder, Notre Dame ranks 14th in league play in rebounding margin (-4.7).
The Yellow Jackets struggled to capture 50-50 balls in their losses to Miami and NC State. They’ll now look to reverse that trend against the Irish – and the numbers suggest it might happen.
Against teams that rank 1-7 in the ACC in rebounding margin, Georgia Tech is 2-5.
Against teams that rank 8-15 in rebounding margin, they’re 5-3.
In the game last month, Georgia Tech outrebounded Notre Dame 37-29. The margin among post players was a push; Tech’s guards, on the other hand, outrebounded Notre Dame’s 13-4. That could be a battle worth monitoring, especially if Notre Dame’s outside shooting leads to long caroms and chase-downs.
Though standing just 6-5 Colson (16.7 ppg, 10.5 rpg) thrives on creating angles and using savvy head fakes to clear his shot (having a 7-2 wingspan also helps). Colson, though, is mostly a below-the-rim player, and head coach Mike Brey used bouncy role player Austin Torres for a career-high 21 minutes in the matchup last month. After a flurry of missed shots against NC State, Georgia Tech needs to finish at the rim without fear of rejection.
Sunday’s game marks a homecoming of sorts for Jodan Price, Tech’s graduate transfer from Indianapolis (he says he’ll have several friends and family members in attendance). Price’s uncle, Joseph, played for Notre Dame under Digger Phelps, and Jodan said he’d occasionally take him inside the locker room at the Joyce Center.
Now that we’re prepared, we hope you are as well. Our pregame coverage starts at 6 p.m. on the Georgia Tech IMG Sports Network. See you in South Bend.