Jan. 21, 2017
By Andy Demetra | Georgia Tech Radio
– When they played in Raleigh, the home team had gone 10-0 at home. They handled N.C. State 86-76.
When they traveled to Blacksburg, the home team just had a 15-game home court winning streak snapped. They fell short against Virginia Tech, but had a chance to win at the buzzer.
Inexperienced or not, Georgia Tech (11-7, 3-3 ACC) has held its own on some stout home courts lately. It won’t abate Saturday: the Virginia Cavaliers (14-3, 4-2 ACC), ranked 16th in the country, have won 36 of their last 38 ACC games at John Paul Jones Arena. To compete, Tech will need to crack a Cavaliers defense that leads in the nation in points per game allowed (53.5).
Scoring against UVa is an experience akin to going to the dentist – though that might be unfair to dentists.
With Tech’s road swing wrapping up, here are my five favorite notes from my chart in preparation for Saturday’s contest in Charlottesville (2 p.m. EST, Georgia Tech IMG Sports Network):
“We got some steals. We had our opportunities. We just stayed aggressive, but we’ve got to convert on those free throws. We’re so good – I really believe in us. I feel we should have come out with this win.” That was Quinton Stephens on our postgame radio interview Wednesday. For most of the year, Josh Pastner has appealed to Stephens to take shots that are both in his rhythm and in his repertoire. Stephens has obliged lately: in his last two games, the senior from Atlanta has scored 40 points on 9 of 18 three-point shooting.
Stephens will face another challenge Saturday from Virginia’s rugged pack-line defense, which limits post touches, forces drives into help, recovers hard on kickouts, and generally makes mirages of open looks. But if Stephens’ long-range gunning continues, it could prove crucial. Dating back to last year, Virginia has allowed 48.2 percent shooting from three-point range in its ACC losses, compared to 31.6 percent in its ACC wins.
Virginia 3-point Percentage Defense since ’15-16 (ACC) Wins: 31.6% Losses: 48.2% Georgia Tech 3pt.% last 3g: 47.6% (20 of 42)
The Yellow Jackets made 8 of 15 three-pointers in their upset of then-No. 4 Virginia last season. Can Stephens and the Jackets do the same on Saturday? And can Ben Lammers heed Pastner’s call to be more aggressive on offense, even with post entries a sometimes difficult proposition against the pack-line?
Speaking of “Pack”… Virginia head coach Tony Bennett grew up in Wisconsin and is an avid Green Bay Packers fan. Yet another reason for Tech to set the tone on NFC Championship Game weekend.
Earlier this year, Stephens reminisced about hearing “Iron Man” chants from the Cameron Crazies when he played against Duke as a freshman. A pair of broken noses in the offseason forced Stephens to wear a clear protective mask that year.
The “Iron Man” chant might get reinstated soon, but for different reasons. In his last two games, Stephens has played 79:45 out of a possible 80:00.
Quinton Stephens Minutes Played vs. NC State – 39:45 vs. Virginia Tech – 40:00
If he plays the entire game against Virginia, he’ll become the first Yellow Jacket to log consecutive 40-minute games since Matt Harpring – another Marist School grad – did it in late January of 1997. **
Like the Jackets’ Josh Heath, Virginia guard Darius Thompson comes from a coaching family. His Dad, Lonnie, played at Middle Tennessee State before serving as head coach of Cumberland University in Lebanon, Tenn.
Yes … that Cumberland University. 222-0 Cumberland. Here’s hoping he has more success than previous head coaches there.
Heath, meanwhile, has scored in double figures in back-to-back games for the first time in his Georgia Tech career. He’ll look to keep Tech’s offense moving Saturday while negotiating UVa’s hard hedges on ball screens (a staple of the Cavaliers’ perimeter defense). Cutting hard, passing quickly and setting firm screens will all be essential to the Jackets’ success.
Virginia may gain more renown for its defense than its offense, but the Cavaliers rank an impressive sixth in the country in three-point percentage (41.3 percent). Preseason first-team All-ACC guard London Perrantes led the league in three-point percentage last year, while backcourt mates Kyle Guy (52.1 percent on threes), Marial Shayok (9.5 ppg) and the emerging Devon Hall (11.7 ppg ACC) will also orbit the perimeter in search of shots. The Cavaliers run patient, precise offense that requires concentration for all 30 seconds of the shot clock, or close to it: Virginia plays at the second-slowest adjusted tempo in the nation.
The Cavaliers, though, will only snipe selectively: 57 percent of their points come from two-point field goals, the second-highest rate in the conference behind Georgia Tech. That may actually play into Georgia Tech’s tastes: the Yellow Jackets rank 22nd in the nation in two-point field goal defense (43.0 percent). **
Sometimes, the best nuggets come from the end of the bench. Virginia sophomore guard Justice Bartley, a Lilburn native, has only played 23 minutes this year for the Cavaliers, but he has a connection to Georgia Tech royalty. His godfather is Yellow Jacket great Kenny Anderson.
Now that we’re prepared, we hope you are as well. Our pregame coverage starts at 1:30 p.m. EST on the Georgia Tech IMG Sports Network. See you in Charlottesville.