By Andy Demetra | Voice of the Yellow Jackets
The performance was both out of nowhere and completely expected.
Guard Tristan Maxwell appeared in just one game last season due to a nagging foot injury. A dental issue and the flu delayed the start to his sophomore year. Entering Georgia Tech’s matchup against Boston College in Chestnut Hill, Mass., Maxwell had played in a grand total of three games, making 3 of 10 field goal attempts. His career to that point consisted of a total of 25 minutes and 57 seconds of floor time.
But Maxwell also had a reputation as a volcanic scorer coming out of North Mecklenburg High School in Charlotte, where he won North Carolina Player of the Year honors as a senior. He finished in the top 20 in North Carolina state history in career scoring. Streak shooting runs in his blood too: his Dad Vernon played 13 years in the NBA and remains one of nine players in league history to score 30 or more points in a quarter. Tristan wears No. 11 in his honor.
Maxwell has always been a shooter. But opportunities to showcase that scoring ability – whether through injury or conditioning or a backlog in the backcourt – had been scarce.
That changed Wednesday in breathtaking fashion in Chestnut Hill. Asked to provide a bench spark against the Eagles, Maxwell went full arsonist instead, erupting for 22 points on 7-of-11 three-point shooting in Georgia Tech’s 81-76 win. In doing so he became just the fourth Tech player in 13 years to make seven or more threes in an ACC game:
|Players with 7+ 3ptrs. vs. ACC opponent – since 2008-09
After lifting the Jackets to a sorely-needed first ACC win, the Charlotte native returns to his home state Saturday when Georgia Tech (7-8, 1-4 ACC) faces North Carolina (11-4, 3-1 ACC) at the Dean Smith Center. The Tar Heels used hot three-point shooting to pull away from the Jackets last month, burying seven of nine threes in the second half en route to a 79-62 win. In addition to being 8-0 at home, North Carolina hasn’t played since last Saturday when it trounced Virginia.
Then again, if Georgia Tech needs to keep pace, it now knows it has another weapon – one who won’t catch anyone off guard this time.
Enjoy the top five notes from my chart as Georgia Tech continues its road swing in Chapel Hill (8 p.m. ET, Georgia Tech Sports Network from Legends Sports):
At 6-7, Tech’s Khalid Moore and Jordan Usher have their hands full with North Carolina’s post players. (photo by Keith Swindell)
Georgia Tech made a deliberate decision to go small against BC, playing a lineup that often topped out at 6-7 Jordan Usher or 6-7 Khalid Moore. The Eagles countered by feeding the post regularly – 7-footer Quinten Post finished with 24 points, 10 more than his previous career high, and 6-9 James Karnik added eight points on 3-of-4 shooting. Both Usher and Moore had to skirt foul trouble in the second half.
The Jackets now face arguably the most menacing big man in the ACC in North Carolina’s 6-10, 240-pound Armando Bacot (16.6 ppg, 11.4 rpg). The junior went for 15 and 13 against Georgia Tech last month, and against Virginia last Saturday he finished with 29 points and 22 rebounds. In addition to giving UNC an overpowering presence on duck-ins, Bacot can step out and iso defenders from the elbow.
Will Georgia Tech continue to use a smaller lineup to prioritize spacing and shooting on offense? If so, can they hold their ground and avoid needless fouls when defending in the post on Bacot? (They did hassle him into five turnovers last month.) And can they win more of the scrambles and 50-50 balls around the basket that led to stickbacks and and-ones against BC? As Josh Pastner puts it, Georgia Tech will need to find ways to “win the foot fight” against the Tar Heels. UNC has played its last two games without 6-11 Dawson Garcia due to a concussion, but the Tar Heels have maintained their lofty standards on the glass, leading the ACC in rebounding margin at plus-8.6 per game. Boston College ranked second, but in spite of its smaller lineup, Tech outrebounded them by four.
The day after Georgia Tech’s win in Boston, Sports Illustrated ran a cover story on its website about John Starks’ nightmarish shooting performance in Game 7 of the 1994 NBA Finals. Front and center in its cover photo: Vernon Maxwell challenging one of Starks’ shots.
Tristan does have bragging rights over his Dad in one area: he had his high school jersey retired before him. North Mecklenburg retired his No. 11 at the conclusion of his senior season in 2020. Vernon didn’t have his No. 11 retired at his alma mater, Buchholz High in Gainesville, Fla., until last month. It begs the question: just how rigorous are the retirement standards at Buchholz? Perhaps another Buchholz alum, my football color analyst Sean Bedford, can provide some answers.
The solution to Bacot isn’t as simple as sending swarms of double teams on him. No team in college basketball has rejuvenated its three-point shooting more than the Tar Heels, who rank sixth nationally in three-point percentage (40.1) after finishing 263rd in that category last year.
The Jackets felt the brunt of that revival last month when UNC sprayed 10 of 17 threes on them. Guards Caleb Love (17 points) and R.J. Davis (23 points) have NBA range and play with unselfishness and savvy around screens, while 6-9 grad transfer Brady Manek (15 points) lurks as a kickout and pick-and-pop threat. Love, like Michael Devoe a preseason second-team All-ACC guard, is the Tar Heels’ best downhill driver. Worth noting: Georgia Tech has held its last four ACC opponents to a combined 29 percent from three.
Michael Devoe has blocked six shots in Tech’s last two games, four at Boston College. (photo by Keith Swindell)
While Maxwell inhabited the spirit of Dennis Scott Wednesday, Michael Devoe evidently inherited the spirit of James Banks. The senior set a new career high with four blocks against Boston College, breaking his previous high of two which he did twice… as a freshman. It continues an unexpected, and likely overlooked, shot blocking renaissance for the guard:
Michael Devoe – ACC Blocks
- Last 3 games: 6
- Previous 55 games: 13
Devoe’s ball handling will be more important than his shot blocking Saturday. Georgia Tech committed 13 turnovers against North Carolina at McCamish; that may not sound like much, but the Tar Heels rank 350th nationally in KenPom turnover percentage, forcing a takeaway on just 13.7 percent of possessions. The numbers suggested Tech could take care of the basketball against UNC, but that ball security never materialized last month. The Jackets will have to beware of over-dribbling in the halfcourt – North Carolina historically thrives on getting baskets in secondary transition.
Deebo Coleman broke out of a post-pause slump Wednesday, scoring 11 points in his second career start:
- Boston College: 4-8 FG, 3-6 3pt.
- Previous 3 games: 2-12 FG, 2-9 3pt.
The freshman showed no nerves in his first career ACC game, pouring in 13 points against the Tar Heels. Coleman earned Florida Mr. Basketball honors as a senior while playing for his Dad Ran at West Nassau High School in Callahan, Fla.
Thirty-seven years earlier, the 1984 Florida Mr. Basketball award was won by Vernon Maxwell.
Now that we’re prepared, we hope you are as well. Join us for pregame coverage starting at 7:30 p.m. ET on the Georgia Tech Sports Network from Legends Sports. See you in Chapel Hill.