Dec. 6, 2016
By Matt Winkeljohn | The Good Word
– Long before the Georgia Tech men’s basketball team returned to campus Saturday and before reviewing film of a disappointing loss at Tennessee, Josh Pastner knew what was wrong with the Yellow Jackets and how he’d address the problem.
After an 81-58 loss to the Volunteers in which the Jackets scored a season low and allowed a season high, players knew, too.
“Definitely I would say energy was the main thing [at] Tennessee,” said senior forward Quinton Stephens. “It was almost sort of a surprise, but I think leading up to that game, the two practices before, we didn’t usually have the same pace.”
Tech’s head coach was of a like mind so the Jackets (4-3) worked on Sunday and Monday for Wednesday’s game at VCU (6-2) as if their tails were on fire – just like they had until last week, when Pastner slowed the speed of practices.
“We were so intense the coaches told me they were concerned about our legs, so we won Saturday [Nov. 26 over Tulane] and then Sunday-Monday in our preparation for Penn State [last Tuesday] … I really backed off on the guys.
“We were off Wednesday, and I really felt our intensity was not there on Thursday and Friday because I backed off. I think it backfired. It didn’t affect them on Tuesday [at Penn State], but it affected us Saturday. That falls squarely on my shoulders.”
Tech had all kinds of problems at Tennessee, like a season-worst 19 turnovers, a season-worst 32.7 percent shooting effort that saw the Jackets make just 12-of-42 two-point shots (28.6 percent), and miss 16 of their first 17 inside the arc, a huge disparity in the paint, where the Vols built a 36-16 scoring edge, and repeated misfires near the rim, where Pastner said the Jackets were putting up more shots with “hope” rather than purpose.
Stephens rallied in the second half to finish with a team-high 15 points, and center Ben Lammers registered a double-double with 10 points and 14 rebounds.
Nobody counted these as highlights, though, not after a game in which the Jackets trailed 42-25 at halftime on the heels of 24.1 percent shooting.
The Jackets have shot the ball better from afar recently, and they made 6-of-13 three-point shots in Thompson-Boling Arena. Yet they’re not built to get rich shooting a bunch of long balls.
Tech wants to get to the rim, but coaches Sunday, Monday and Tuesday drilled the difference between driving the ball with “hope” and attacking the basket with conviction and a plan.
“We broke that down like crazy as a staff, and talked about it Sunday as a team,” Pastner said. “We’ve got to keep drilling it. The hope shots are bad shots, like a turnover.”
Stephens sounded like he gets it.
“I think sometimes we’re hoping for a foul [call against the defense], but we have to finish it or make a pass, make a different read,” he said. “If you’re cut off, you don’t necessarily have to try to finish; you can turn around and there’s going to be another guy for a drive right behind, which we call a drag.
“We just have to execute the offense.”
Freshman point guard Justin Moore missed the Tennessee game with a stomach virus, but is expected to return to action at VCU.
After dropping their first two road games at Penn State (67-60) and at Tennessee, the Jackets have put out enough tape of themselves that opponents know they want to “conquer the paint,” as Stephens said.
The fact that opponents are double-teaming Lammers regularly and clogging the interior doesn’t mean that Tech’s plan will change. That requires far more intensity, however, than the Jackets took to Knoxville, so strength and conditioning coach Dan Taylor has been busier the past few days – like before.
When Pastner doesn’t like a player’s energy level in practice, he sends the student-athlete to Taylor, who puts the Jacket on a VersaClimber.
Think of a hockey player being sent to the penalty box, but instead of sitting he’s busting his tail to get out.
“Last week, I didn’t send guys to Dan. [Sunday], I sent like 10. It’s a penalty, they weren’t playing hard enough,” the head coach explained. “So they have to be at 180 rpm minimum on the VersaClimber, which is hard, for 60 seconds. When they’re off, they go right back into practice.”
After struggling against pressure defense the last couple games, the Jackets have spent time working on that, and they’re eager to re-establish their personality Wednesday night in Richmond, Va.
“We have a lot to learn, but I think we’re still excited,” Stephens said. “We’re excited for our next away game, because we know we’re going to have energy. It’s more of a mindset where we know we’ve got to be the first ones to punch them in the mouth. That’s really what Tennessee did to us.”
That sounds about right. Beyond schematic adjustments and X’s and O’s, Pastner is most interested in the Jackets playing with passion, purpose and pride.
“Over my dead body are we not going to be the most energized team and play so darned hard,” he said. “We’re not a team that can be dialed back. I base my entire life and how I live on energy, and I want our team to be based on energy.
“We’re going to go back to that practice. As long as I’m head coach at Georgia Tech … I’ll never do that again. By me being dialed down as a leader, that allowed them to be dialed down.”
Against a team looking to atone for a 13-point loss last December in Atlanta, dialing up will be critical.