Jan. 15, 2014
By Matt Winkeljohn The Good Word
Any Georgia Tech basketball fan who happened to see Tuesday night’s game had a somewhat unique chance to see the Yellow Jackets of the present and future.
Tech fell 81-74 to Pitt in McCamish Pavilion as head coach Brian Gregory’s short-staffed team battled valiantly against long numerical odds against an opponent that deploys much like Gregory hopes to one day see his team play regularly.
The Panthers are ranked No. 21/22, although Pitt (16-1, 4-0 ACC) hasn’t received much love even as their transition from the Big East is off to a roaring start.
A 9 p.m. start time in McCamish Pavilion to accommodate TV made attendance difficult for some Tuesday. Here’s what happened for those who missed it:
The Jackets led by three at halftime only to slip behind early in the second half as the Panthers methodically went on a 9-0 run that looked and felt like Pitt was swinging sledgehammers in rhythm; nothing spectacular, plenty steady.
The formula was two-tiered for the visitors: Score or if you don’t score grab the rebound and try again; and when Tech tries and fails to score, grab the rebound so they don’t get another chance.
It worked. Pitt won the rebounding battle 38-18, and shot 57 percent.
The Panthers were the ghost of Tech’s future, Gregory hopes.
They were extremely efficient, content to rarely shoot from beyond the 3-point line (2-for-7) and instead worked the ball into – and within — the paint repeatedly. Plus, of course, they hit the glass like mad.
Jamie Dixon is in his 11th season coaching Pitt. Gregory is in his third at Tech. He liked what he saw Tuesday.
“Pittsburgh has built a great program,” Gregory said. “They play with great toughness. They share the ball well. They know exactly who they are and they rarely take a bad shot. The guys know who’s getting the shots, so they’re always in good position to rebound.”
The Panthers do indeed know themselves, and the Jackets are missing significant parts of themselves.
Minus four payers Gregory would have played liberally. Power forward Robert Carter, Jr., who led the ACC in rebounding when he went down with a knee injury two weeks ago, was easiest to miss.
In total, the Jackets suited up eight scholarship players as guards Travis Jorgenson (knee) and Solomon Poole (migraine) did not play, and senior swing man Jason Morris missed the game after suffering a concussion in a weekend auto accident.
Morris had been one of three players filling Carter’s void. Without him, Tech went substantial minutes Tuesday with freshman Quinton Stephens and wing man Stacy Poole, Jr. playing the power forward spot without much power.
Gregory was practically inventing stuff on the fly, and Dixon knew it.
“I tend to feel sorry for having all the injuries that they’ve had,” the Pitt coach said. “We’ve had our one kid go down, but they’ve been through a lot of things. A couple kids couldn’t play against us and it was probably to our advantage.”
Indeed. The Jackets’ defense suffered at times on the perimeter because of the absence of Poole, Jorgenson and Morris. It suffered inside because of the absence of Carter and, arguably, Morris.
Pitt shot 65 percent after intermission.
Save Tech’s dry spell early in the second half, when a 37-32 lead because of a 41-37 deficit from which the Jackets never recovered, the home team was sturdy on offense.
Trae Golden was again the engine, scoring 22 points.
The Jackets’ true bigs were effective, but didn’t get many chances. The Panthers frequently collapsed upon senior center Daniel Miller, who scored 12 points on 5-for-7 shooting. Senior Kammeon Holsey scored 12 on 6-for-9.
Still, Pitt outscored the Jackets 46-34 in the paint because that’s where the Panthers want to score and that’s where they kept funneling the ball.
Senior center-forward Talib Zanna led the Panthers with 22 points on 8-for-10, and grabbed nine rebounds. Fellow forwards Michael Young and Lamar Patterson each had seven rebounds.
And there was the difference in the game – inside.
If the Jackets had not forced Patterson into seven turnovers and Pitt into 14 miscues, then the score would have been lopsided.
“Offensively, some of our passing is the only negative I can find for us,” Dixon said. “That’s out of character. We’re a low turnover team; we’re the best in the country.
“The passing was terrific . . . we got numerous layups and that’s what we do. We do believe the layups are our best way to go.”
Pitt’s lone loss was by a point, at Cincinnati, and that was the only game where the Panthers did not win the rebounding battle.
Tuesday, the Panthers won that fight by TKO.
That gap makes it impressive, actually, that the Jackets finished as close as they did. When considering Tech’s list of injured players, the loss left that much more reason for optimism heading into Saturday’s home game against Miami.
“They took seven three’s the whole night – that’s who they are,” Gregory said. “At the same time, even with us as disjointed as we were out there, with who we had out there, I thought we showed pretty good fight.
“We didn’t rebound tonight worth anything . . . It doesn’t matter if you have five guards out there, you got to hit people, you got to get to the ball and you got to pursue it . . . So you can make excuses with the injuries or whatever, but you got to fight on the glass and we didn’t so I’m disappointed in that.”
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