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#TGW: Grinding It Out Early

Nov. 21, 2017

By Matt Winkeljohn | The Good Word –

THE FLATS — Ben Lammers once again did what he often does, and Georgia Tech on Sunday won its home opener, yet fans shouldn’t necessarily anticipate the bulk of the Yellow Jackets’ season looking like the 65-62 win over Bethune-Cookman.

Tech’s senior center scored 19 points, grabbed 13 rebounds, blocked eight shots, banked four steals and added two assists in the home opener at McCamish Pavilion. That was darned good.

It’s reasonable to expect Tech (1-1) to be considerably more proficient offensively beyond Lammers than Sunday’s 39.2 percent shooting and a 1-of-8 tally on 3-pointers for a few reasons, one uncomfortable and one that’s common sense.

Guards Josh Okogie and Tadric Jackson, the team’s leading- and third-leading scorers last season, are suspended. When they return, Tech’s offense should improve. Jackson will miss Wednesday’s game against Texas-Rio Grande Valley, and then suit up Friday against North Texas.

Okogie, who paced the Jackets while scoring nearly 16 points a game as a freshman, can return for the Dec. 3 game against Tennessee as long has the finger on his left hand that he dislocated in the preseason is healed.

So, that ought to help.

“I knew I had to step up in these early games just because we’re missing a couple key players,” Lammers said. “So, I tried to be more aggressive on both ends to try to make up for some lost points.”

Tech’s many newcomers also should only get better as they figure out what’s going on. Some also will likely play less once Jackson and Okogie return, although Alvarado – who scored 18 points with six rebounds and five assists – probably isn’t going anywhere.

The Jackets’ four scholarship freshmen — Alvarado, Moses Wright, Curtis Haywood III and Evan Cole — played a combined 79 minutes, scoring 24 points and grabbing 14 rebounds.

They also had nine of Tech’s 19 turnovers, which the Bobcats (1-3) converted into 25 points. Alvarado had six against Bethune-Cookman’s slow press defense.

“Bottom line is, until we get Tadric or Josh back, we’re going to be relying on our young guys,” said head coach Josh Pastner. “Besides Ben Lammers, nobody has really played significant, key minutes, whether it’s the freshmen, returning guys. it’s just going to be a grind for us.”

It should be pointed out that sophomore Sylvester Ogbonda, a 6-foot-10 forward/center, will eventually play after being slowed by a preseason knee injury. That’ll both give Lammers a little rest (he played 38 of 40 minutes Sunday) and add size to Tech’s front line.

In the meantime, Tech is again playing solid defense.

Bethune-Cookman made just 20-of-55 shots (36.4 percent) and that came with 12-of-28 makes from beyond the 3-point line. Inside the arc, the Bobcats made just 8-of-27 (29.6 percent) and Tech blocked 10 of those shots.

There have been bright spots offensively.

Lammers is averaging 21.5 points on 63.3 percent shooting, and Alvarado is clicking at 15 points and 47.4 percent.

All other players are a combined shooting 20 percent.

“How many layups have we missed on fastbreak opportunities?” Pastner asked. “It’s just going to come through experience. We’re a very young team.”

Brandon Alston, a graduate transfer from Lehigh, is averaging 12.0 points, yet from the field he’s 5-of-20 (25 percent).

He’s been very good at getting to the free throw line, making 13-of-15, and he converted three impressive scores in the first half Sunday when he crashed the lane and took nifty drop passes from Lammers to score and/or get fouled.

Alvarado has also been busy attacking the basket, making 10-of-12 free throws, but the Jackets have made just 5-of-28 3-pointers (19.2 percent).

If they’re not scoring close, they’re hardly scoring, and as Pastner said, “The 3-point shot is the equalizer or difference maker in this day and age.”

Jackson and Okogie were Tech’s first- and second-most accurate 3-point shooters by percentage among regular players, if not by volume, at 38.4 and 32.5. Okogie made 42.9 percent in ACC games (15-of-35).

In sum, it comes down to most of the newcomers and returning players other than Lammers.

Alvarado has made 9-of-19 shots from the field. All other new faces – Wright, Haywood III, Cole and Alston – have combined to go 11-of-45 (24.4 percent).

Junior forward Aboulaye Gueye, who made two critical free throws Sunday with seven seconds left, has missed all four of his shots. Sophomore point guard Justin Moore has made 1-of-11.

And then there’s the turnovers.

“We’ve got to take care of the ball,” Alvarado said. “In practice, we’re going to work on it more. It’s no excuse. There was no rust. We were probably just nervous with the home game, but we should be fine.”


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