By Andy Demetra | Voice of the Yellow Jackets
Kyle Sturdivant saw two defenders collapsing on him in confusion, and immediately the senior point guard knew what to do.
Angling off toward the Georgia Tech bench, Sturdivant flicked a short pass behind him. The ball had barely left his hands before he hollered out the word.
Sturdivant said it so loudly, with such conviction, that it sounded more like a guarantee than a plea. Sure enough, Miles Kelly took his pass and drilled a wing three-pointer to extend Georgia Tech’s lead to 52-34 over Louisville in the opening minutes of the second half.
Sturdivant had reason to feel confident in his declaration. The Norcross, Ga., native finished with 10 assists, becoming the first Tech player with double-digit assists in a game since Josh Heath in 2017. Kelly poured in five threes for a second straight game, the first Yellow Jacket to do so in ACC play since Adam Smith in 2016. And Georgia Tech (12-17, 4-14 ACC) continued its late-season revenge tour, shooting an ACC-high 48 percent in a grudge match win over the Cardinals at McCamish Pavilion.
The Jackets will try to manifest more knockdowns Tuesday – and produce another takedown of a team that beat them earlier in the season. Syracuse (16-13, 9-9 ACC) defeated Tech 80-63 on January 21 at McCamish Pavilion, in the middle of the Yellow Jackets’ nine-game ACC morass. Tech has been a different team since then, though, and on Tuesday they’ll look for a different result against an Orange squad that’s lost three straight by an average of 19 points.
Enjoy the top notes from my chart as the Yellow Jackets kick off the final week of the regular season in the snow globe of Syracuse (7 p.m. ET, Georgia Tech Sports Network from Legends Sports):
Kyle Sturdivant has become indispensable to the Jackets over their last eight games. (photo by Danny Karnik)
Monday’s game marks the sixth home-and-home opponent for Georgia Tech in ACC play.
With the exception of Clemson, the Yellow Jackets have shot noticeably better in the second meeting:
- Opponent – FG% increase
- Notre Dame – +4.1%
- N.C. State – +4.7%
- Pittsburgh – +10.9%
- Louisville – +18.7%
Tech went from its lowest field goal percentage of the season against Louisville on Feb. 1 to its highest field goal percentage in conference play on Saturday.
Georgia Tech shot 43 percent against the Orange last month – not bad, but not great – though Syracuse’s length had bouts of bothering them. The Jackets committed 16 turnovers, often the result of forcing passes and fumbling catches through a tripwire of Syracuse hands.
Syracuse’s zone has been unusually leaky lately, allowing 43 three-pointers and 41.7-percent three-point shooting during its three-game losing streak. On the other hand, the Orange rank second in the nation in block rate (15.5 percent), which would seem like a challenge for an undersized team. Georgia Tech will need to continue to engage defenders, cut with purpose, and make the sharp swing passes – “throwing strikes,” to borrow a Pastner-ism – that led to open looks against Pittsburgh and Louisville. Against Syracuse’s zone, there’s a difference between playing decisively and playing too fast.
Back in high school, Joe Girard III paid homage to a Yellow Jacket by wearing Starburys, the shoe brand of former Tech guard Stephon Marbury.
At McCamish last month, the senior guard evoked a few too many Marbury flashbacks with his 28-point, 7-assist performance against the Jackets.
Joe Girard 3pt. – Career vs. Georgia Tech
- Jan. 21 – 6 of 10
- First 4 games – 7 of 24
The 6-1, 190-pounder (16.9 ppg) will once again command the lion share of attention, using mis-directions and curls to find his shot at any time in a possession. He can also use his frame to back down defenders for pull-ups, something he did time and again in Atlanta. Point guard Judah Mintz (16.0 ppg) would likely be ACC Rookie of the Year were it not for Duke’s Kyle Filipowski; though he’s a rugged driver, he’s shown an improved outside shot of late. Syracuse also inserted 6-8 Benny Williams into the starting lineup against Pittsburgh in place of 6-8 freshman Maliq Brown. Brown is a high-motor defender who scored a career-high 18 points against Tech, but Williams buried 5-of-6 threes against Pitt and gives the Orange another floor-stretching wing.
Worth noting: Syracuse scored an ACC-high 44 points in the paint against Tech in January. The Jackets can’t get worn down by the Orange’s length, especially in their “1-5” switches. Can they also turn their defense into transition? When they’ve had success against Syracuse in recent seasons, fast break scoring has been a key ingredient.
Jalon Moore scored 11 points in Tech’s first meeting vs. Syracuse. (photo by Danny Karnik)
How valuable was Jalon Moore in the first meeting with Syracuse?
In the first half, his plus-minus was +6.
And Georgia Tech trailed by seven at halftime.
Moore collected his second and third fouls a second apart, saddling him to the bench with 10:56 left and Georgia Tech ahead by nine. Ja’von Franklin couldn’t duplicate his efficiency from the high post, finishing with his lowest offensive rating since returning to full strength from his groin injury. Both will need to play assertively in the alleys against 6-11 Jesse Edwards (14.0 ppg, 10.1 rpg), the ACC’s leading shot blocker who can cover a lot of ground around the rim.
It was an odd sight to behold as Georgia Tech practiced Monday: thousands of green, tennis ball-colored towels draped over the lower levels of seats at the JMA Wireless Dome. They’re part of a sponsorship promotion for Tuesday’s game, though it was jarring to see a color other than orange filling the seats.
Now that we’re prepared, we hope you are as well. Join us for pregame coverage starting at 6:30 p.m. ET on the Georgia Tech Sports Network from Legends Sports. See you in Syracuse.
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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.