Dec. 6, 2017
By Matt Winkeljohn | The Good Word
– Spartanburg, South Carolina, is a whole lot closer to Georgia Tech than Shanghai, yet in some ways the Yellow Jackets may be just as far from home tonight when they play at Wofford as when they opened the season in China in a neutral site contest with UCLA.
The Jackets (4-3) played a spirited brand of basketball Sunday night in losing 77-70 to Tennessee, yet sophomore guard Josh Okogie remains sidelined as his left index heals from a dislocation suffered in an Oct. 28 exhibition against Georgia State, and senior center Ben Lammers hasn’t practiced since spraining his right ankle Nov. 19 against Bethune-Cookman.
With the Jackets’ leading scorer out, their second-leading scorer and ACC Defensive Player of the Year hobbled, freshmen Jose Alvarado and Curtis Haywood starting and fellow newcomers Moses Wright and Evan Cole being counted on off the bench, Tech hasn’t come together yet.
Tech was out of sorts for the first 30 minutes of Friday night’s 64-63 upset loss to Grambling State. The Jackets were more energetic against the Vols, but Pastner looks for more consistency as Tech plays the Terriers (4-4) in its first true road game of the season.
“We haven’t defended like we needed to the last two games late in the second half. We haven’t got the kills – three stops in a row,” the coach said. “We haven’t got that done enough and the percentages say it. That’s our calling card.
Lammers is feeling better, and after tonight’s game in Richardson Indoor Stadium – the first of 17 games between Tech and Wofford ever played away from Atlanta – he’ll have extra time to rest the ankle. The Jackets next play Dec. 17 vs. Florida A&M.
After leading the Jackets with 17 points and nine rebounds against Tennessee, the senior center sounded excited about traveling.
“I think it will be an interesting experience. It will be a good experience for our team to go on the road and experience that because it definitely is a whole different game where everybody is rooting against you,” Lammers explained.
“Young guys just really have to realize that you have to focus on the team. Don’t worry about outside distractions.”
Tech’s young guys have had moments, to be sure.
Alvarado is tied with Lammers atop the scoring leaderboard, as they’re averaging 14.6 per game. Haywood is shooting 48 percent from beyond the 3-point line, 81.3 percent from the free throw line, and averaging 9.0 points, 4.1 rebounds and 3.6 assists.
Additonally, senior guard Tadric Jackson is scoring near the goal at an impressive clip, averaging 14.5 points in his four games this season.
However, twice in the second half against Tennessee the Jackets cut the deficit to a point only to have the Vols push back ahead to a more comfortable margin. Pastner said those issues are not limited to defensive shortcomings.
“For us, a bad shot is like a turnover because it leads to transition defense and it doesn’t get your defense set. It takes you out of offensive rebounding,” he said. “We’ve got to have greater shot selection.
“I met with the guys yesterday individually about that. Some of its youth not understanding, but on the other hand part of it is teaching.”
The Jackets don’t have all hands on deck, and the hands they do have figure to be fairly full tonight against a well-sized Southern Conference opponent that shoots the 3-pointer like mad. The Terriers are 42.9 percent of their long balls at home (42-of-98).
Wofford guard Fletcher Magee is averaging 22.5 points, and in four games in Richardson this season, he’s made half of his 34 3-point shots.
That’s hardly a surprise, as the 6-foot-4 junior is one of 51 players on the Lou Henson National Player of the Year award given to the top Division I mid-major student-athlete, and Magee has help.
Center Matthew Pegram (6-11) is averaging 10.3 points, 6-8 forward Cameron Jackson is good for 12.4 points and 6.0 rebounds, and 6-4 guard Nathan Hoover is averaging 12.3 points while hitting 45 percent of his 3-pointers at home.
Pastner can hardly keep up.
“They’ve got Fletcher at [small forward], plus Hoover, their bigs are good, they run great stuff, they move well without the basketball, they cut, it’s a road game, we’ll have to bounce back from the two-game losing streak and try to find a way to get a win,” he said. “We’ll have to play exceptional on Wednesday.”
Lammers, who sank his first two 3-pointers of the season in the second half against Tennessee, is playing it straight with the goal of forgetting bad things.
“The [Grambling State] game, we laid an egg. We didn’t come out with great energy,” he said. “[Against Tennessee], we brought better energy, and we need to carry it forward and not let the past beat us.”