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Inside The Chart: Georgia Tech at NC State

By Andy Demetra | Voice of the Yellow Jackets

There’s not much satisfaction in playing spoiler, but Georgia Tech (8-14, 1-11 ACC) may have to settle for that role as they face some of the ACC’s NCAA Tournament hopefuls.

North Carolina State (18-5, 8-4 ACC) didn’t figure to be in that conversation following a 11-21 season in 2021-22, then a preseason 10th place pick in the ACC media poll.  But the Wolfpack have built legitimate momentum for March, winning seven of their last eight games and appearing in bracket projections nationwide.  They may not lead the ACC standings, but they could be playing with the most confidence of any team in the league.

Then again, knowing you can’t afford a Quad 4 slip-up can create its own kind of unease.  And they’re facing a Georgia Tech team that has won four straight games at PNC Arena, often in bewildering, last-second fashion.

Any type of psychological edge could be useful for a Tech team that knows it won’t be an offense-optional night in Raleigh.  Enjoy the top notes from my chart as the Yellow Jackets wrap up their road swing (1 p.m. ET, Georgia Tech Sports Network from Legends Sports):

Jalon Moore scored a season-high 17 points with nine rebounds in the teams’ first meeting on Jan. 17. (photo by Danny Karnik)

 

It shouldn’t have surprised anyone when North Carolina’s Armando Bacot earned the bulk of the votes for Preseason ACC Player of the Year.

But still.  Terquavion Smith… one vote?  After averaging 18 points in conference play as a freshman?  After returning to N.C. State despite a first-round projection in the NBA Draft?

Those tabulations may look even more out of whack next month.  The ACC’s leading scorer (19.1 ppg), Smith continues to build a compelling case for Player of the Year, with 32 points against Florida State Wednesday and 25 against the Yellow Jackets in Atlanta.  When he’s not using hesi’s galore to long-stride into the lane, he’s lacing deep threes if teams lay underneath screens.  He’s also increasingly skilled at firing kickout passes to teammates.

Along with 6-1 Jarkel Joiner, who poured in 19 points against Tech in January, NC State has a pair of aggressive, athletic guards on ball screens who shoot with unbridled confidence.  There’s no magic formula to stopping them other than making them earn their points.  NC State runs a no-frills, ball screen- and DHO-heavy offense, though they’re running it with high levels of swagger and self-belief.

Josh Pastner said his defense needs to force more turnovers, but Tech did hassle N.C. State into its second highest turnover rate of the season in Atlanta (21.2%).  That’s noteworthy because the Wolfpack have since climbed to second nationally in turnover rate (13.6%).  Getting Lance Terry back should give Tech another flytrap defender who can rotate on Smith or Joiner.

*****

Tech led NC State 18-8 by the 15:05 mark of the first half in Atlanta.

What made that so impressive?  NC State could stake a claim as the best starting team in the ACC:

OpponentLead
Miami25-13
Duke15-0
Virginia Tech13-2
Florida State30-4

No other ACC team has led State by that much, that early, in the first half.

*****

For the first time in a while, Georgia Tech didn’t lament a lack of free throw attempts.  This time, they lamented not making them.

The Jackets’ comeback effort in Louisville was spoiled by 12 of 20 free throw shooting in the second half.  They could have a shot at some redemption in Raleigh: NC State is still allowing the highest percentage of opponents’ points to come off free throws in ACC play.

% of points from free throws (ACC only)
NC State defense23.2%
Georgia Tech offense12.9%

That high free throw rate is a function of NC State’s aggressiveness on defense:  The Wolfpack like to sit in passing lanes and slap and swipe at ballhandlers.  They also play a full-court press that may not always produce turnovers, but can have a diminishing effect on opposing backcourts.  If teams break it, though, it can create opportunities for 3-on-2 or 2-on-1 attacks to the rim.

The Wolfpack’s hectic defensive style also coerces teams into shooting threes.  Not only do opponents shoot a high volume of them, NC State is defending them well.

CategoryPercentageACC Rank (conference only)
3pt. Rate  (3pt. FGA/FGA)31%#1
3pt. FG% defense30.30%#1

Pastner maintained that if his team made its free throws and went, say, 5-of-21 from three instead of 2-of-21, they could have beaten N.C. State last month.  The Wolfpack still cheat off ball-side corners in hopes of pickpocketing dribble drivers, which can sometimes lead to open looks in the halfcourt.  Tech will need to make those available kickout threes, something that’s been frustratingly lacking of late.

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Ja’von Franklin had a season-high seven offensive rebounds against Louisville. (photo courtesy of Louisville athletics)

 

The list of players who become All-ACC immediately after transferring is still spotty.

D.J. Burns Jr. (6-9, 275 pounds) could change that.  A former Big South Player of the Year at Winthrop, Burns, who’s averaging 19.5 points over his last four games, has given the Wolfpack much-needed floor spacing for Smith and Joiner.  As we saw in Atlanta, he’s a light-on-his-feet minivan who has impressive passing touch from the short corners and foul line.  He’s also not above backing down defenders Barkley-style from the wing.

 

Tech’s frontcourt may have had its best game of ACC play against NC State last month – in addition to Jalon Moore’s career-high 17 points and 9 rebounds, Rodney Howard finished with nine points, seven rebounds and five assists.  The Jackets rolled up their highest differential in second chance points (+13) in ACC play against a State team that ranked among the league leaders in rebounding margin.

Their energy will need to set the tone again Saturday.  Among the players they’ll encounter is 6-8 Greg Gantt, who possesses one of the more eclectic stat lines in ACC play this season.  In the three games following Georgia Tech, Gantt scored zero points… and grabbed 17 rebounds.

*****

Apropos of nothing:  the ACC includes a shooting guard named “Schutt” (Duke freshman Jaden Schutt), a point guard named “Pass” (NC State sophomore Breon Pass), and a post player named “Post” (Boston College senior Quinten Post).

Though oddly, the player named “Pack” plays for Miami (UM guard Nijel Pack).

*****

Now that we’re prepared, we hope you are as well.  Join us for pregame coverage starting at 12:30 p.m. ET on the Georgia Tech Sports Network from Legends Sports.  See you in Raleigh.

-AD-

 


Alexander-Tharpe Fund

The Alexander-Tharpe Fund is the fundraising arm of Georgia Tech athletics, providing scholarship, operations and facilities support for Georgia Tech’s 400-plus student-athletes. Be a part of developing Georgia Tech’s Everyday Champions and helping the Yellow Jackets compete for championships at the highest levels of college athletics by supporting the Annual Athletic Scholarship Fund, which directly provides scholarships for Georgia Tech student-athletes. To learn more about supporting the Yellow Jackets, visit atfund.org.

ABOUT GEORGIA TECH MEN’S BASKETBALL

Georgia Tech’s men’s basketball team has completed six seasons under head coach Josh Pastner, winning the Atlantic Coast Conference championship in 2021 and making its first NCAA Tournament appearance in 11 years. Tech has been a member of the Atlantic Coast Conference since 1979, won four ACC Championships (1985, 1990, 1993, 2021), played in the NCAA Tournament 17 times and played in two Final Fours (1990, 2004). Connect with Georgia Tech Men’s Basketball on social media by liking their Facebook Page, or following on Twitter (@GTMBB) and Instagram. For more information on Tech basketball, visit Ramblinwreck.com.

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