Feb. 28, 2017
By Andy Demetra | Georgia Tech Radio
– Have we really reached the end of the regular season?
Apparently time flies when you’re exceeding expectations. Despite a pair of setbacks last week, Georgia Tech (16-13, 7-9 ACC) enters the final week of the regular season with its postseason heart still beating. They’ll try to keep the bubble within sight as they take on Pittsburgh (15-14, 4-12 ACC) at McCamish Pavilion on Senior Night. Six Yellow Jackets – Quinton Stephens, Josh Heath, Corey Heyward, Rand Rowland, and graduate transfers Jodan Price and Kellen McCormick – will take their final strides onto the home floor, looking to avenge a 64-60 loss to Notre Dame on Sunday.
Time may have flown for the Yellow Jacket seniors. On Tuesday, they’ll look to make the time count against the Panthers. Here are my five best notes from my chart in preparation for Tuesday’s matchup at McCamish (9 p.m. EST, Georgia Tech IMG Sports Network):
Yellow Jackets beware: Pittsburgh isn’t your typical 13th-place conference team. Under first-year head coach Kevin Stallings, the Panthers boast two of the ACC’s top four scorers in 6-9 senior Michael Young (20.2 ppg, No. 1 ACC) and 6-7 senior Jamel Artis (19.2 ppg, No. 4 ACC). Young is a versatile, vexing hybrid who can pick-and-pop on taller defenders or post up smaller ones off pin-down screens; Artis, who lit up Louisville for 43 points in a game earlier this season, is more of a creator and outside threat.
Though 4-12 in the ACC, Pitt was potent enough to have scored 88 points in an overtime win over Virginia and its top-ranked efficiency defense. The Yellow Jackets have played their best when they’ve shrunk the floor and crowded the airspace against gifted, multidimensional scorers. Can that same formula work again versus Young and Artis?
With four more blocks against Notre Dame Sunday, Ben Lammers now has 100 on the season.
Pitt’s entire team has 98.
That rim protection likely has Lammers headed toward ACC Defensive Player of the Year honors, making him the first Jacket to win the award since it began in 2005. He’s not alone in his defensive prowess, though. With ACC play winding down, look at how Tech has fared against the league’s top shooting teams:
ACC Rankings – FG% (Conf. games) / vs. GT 1. Virginia Tech (.491) / .400 (2nd lowest ACC) 2. Florida State (.470) / .282 (lowest ACC, season-low) 3. Louisville (.468) / .383 (2nd lowest ACC) In spite of its loss Sunday, Tech held Notre Dame to a season-low 35.1 percent from the field.
The indicators were all there last week. Missed layups. Lost 50-50 balls. Uncharacteristic turnovers. Conceded offensive rebounds.
Georgia Tech’s short turnaround, from Sunday night to Tuesday, depleted them of much-needed energy in a 71-69 loss to NC State. The Jackets now face another tight turnaround against Pitt. Can the Yellow Jackets “finish through fatigue” – make layups, run shooters off the three-point line, chase down rebounds, etc. – and make the hustle plays that have buoyed them all season? They may get some relief from the Panthers: Pitt ranks last in the ACC in steals, and has the second-worst defensive rebounding percentage in the league (66.7 percent).
In many ways, Pitt resembles Virginia Tech in the number of “switchables” – i.e., positionless players – they have on the floor. In addition to Young and Artis, Pitt has a pair of revitalized three-point threats in 6-8 Sheldon Jeter (7 for his last 12) and 6-8 Cameron Johnson (24 for his last 48), both of whom can make teams pay for bringing extra help to Young and Artis. At Vanderbilt, Kevin Stallings was known for running an endless parade of slips, counters, dribble weaves and unorthodox screens, all meant to open the paint for back cuts or “pick and pops.” In ACC play, the Panthers attempt 41 percent of their shots from three-point range, the highest percentage in the league. Look for the threes to rain down from the Panthers Tuesday. Key for Tech: not get tempted into denying too hard, which could put them out of rotation and open the floor for Pitt threes.
Corey Heyward and Pitt reserve center Rozelle Nix likely spend their fall Sundays the same way. Heyward’s brother Cameron plays defensive end for the Pittsburgh Steelers. Nix’s brother Roosevelt is a fullback for the Steelers.
The Duluth, Ga., native said Senior Day will carry extra meaning for him. His father, the late Craig “Ironhead” Heyward, played football at Pitt and remains the school’s third all-time leading rusher.
Now that we’re prepared, we hope you are as well. Our pregame coverage starts at 8:30 p.m. EST on the Georgia Tech IMG Sports Network. See you at McCamish.