Dec. 18, 2017
Georgia Tech walloped Florida A&M Sunday afternoon in a much-needed way that might’ve allowed Josh Pastner to sleep once again, and you might say the Yellow Jackets began to look like the team fans expected.
Except that 79-54 win wasn’t what anybody should expect of Tech. That game was a preseason experiment before the Jackets play at Georgia (7-2) Tuesday night.
Florida A&M (1-13) was an opportunity for Josh Okogie, last season’s leading scorer, to break his first sweat after missing eight games because of suspension and a dislocated left index finger. That was Sunday’s first takeaway.
“Tiring, but it felt great to finally get my feet back on the court and be able to play,” Okogie said after making 6-of-13 shots, including a pair of 3-pointers, and adding four rebounds, two blocks, a steal and an assist. “I went through a lot [over] the last seven weeks, but I’m able to bounce back and help my team.”
And Pastner didn’t run that game like any his first 45 games at the helm.
He’s not going to routinely deploy 13 players, nor nine in the first half long before a blowout was assured, especially with starting guard Curtis Haywood II (shin injury) and backup big man Sylvester Ogbonda (ankle) unavailable.
But while the Jackets had 10 days between games over the final exam break, Pastner did a lot of thinking. He decided his team’s been too slow.
So, Tech needs to press more on defense, and push the pace more on offense. Players get tired when that happens, so more need to play.
Plus, the Jackets weren’t getting much offensive production from the power forward spot with Abdoulaye Gueye, so Pastner started Moses Wright there and subbed in fellow freshman Evan Cole liberally. That worked.
Wright, the 6-foot-9 forward from Raleigh, N.C., was spectacularly active and athletic on his way to scoring 19 points, grabbing seven rebounds and banking three steals. In 18 minutes, Cole scored four points and grabbed four rebounds.
Gueye was not shut out; he transitioned to become the backup at center, where Ben Lammers (six points, eight rebounds, one blocked shot in 22 minutes) continued to struggle with a badly sprained ankle. AD, as his teammates and coaches call him, pitched in four points, four rebounds, two slick assists, a steal and a blocked shot.
“We weren’t getting enough production at [power forward], so I told AD to go to [center] as a backup to Ben,” Pastner said. “I wanted to invest in Evan and Moses at [power forward] to see how they do there.
“I thought AD did some really solid things for us at the [center] spot. We’ll just have to continue to work with him. Moses did some really good things in the open floor. He’s going to be good; it’s just going to take some time.”
It took no time Sunday for Wright to inflict himself upon the Rattlers. He flicked a jumper in for a 15-6 lead, and soon after Lammers blocked a shot at the other end, he took a pass from Tadric Jackson and threw down the first of multiple dunks.
Wright, who was more of a swimmer than a hoopster while growing up in Raleigh, has impossibly narrow shoulders, but a remarkably wide array of skills. They’re based on athleticism, although he has a little bit of a jumper to go with it.
Okogie wasn’t surprised to see Moses make 8-of-9 shots.
“We’ve been trying to get Moses to finally do what he’s doing now,” Josh said after Wright started for the first time since Tech’s 63-60 loss in the season opener in Shanghai, China. “Moses can be a really special player.”
When the Jackets went 19 days without a win, losing three consecutive in that time, he decided that the Jackets have to speed up.
And that takes more players. So, Tech scored a season-high 79 points.
“When I got the job here I felt that I needed to, based on our personnel and depth, we needed to play really slow. When you play slow, junk the game up with less possessions,” he said, “when you do that, you beat teams you probably shouldn’t have beaten – which we had great wins last year – however, you don’t get separation from teams you should smash because it’s a low-possession game.
“I would prefer to play faster, and when Josh went down … I changed how we played, and played probably a little slower. It got us wins, [against] Northwestern and gave us a chance against UCLA, but it also cost us games.”
Sunday was the first time that Pastner has limited Lammers’ minutes. Previously, he said “50 percent of Lammers is better than no Lammers,” or something to that effect when asked about sitting him down to let his ankle heal.
So, a switch in process.
Okogie described another change, embodied by a 19-0 run in the second half that stretched the Jackets’ lead to 59-29 on his dunk with 11:22 left in the game. That bucket, counted among 23 fast break points, was symbolic.
“I think the biggest thing was us having fun,” Okogie said. “We’ve been playing hard, but the thing that I think we lacked was just enjoying the game. We put so much energy into preparation that we take the game so serious at times.”