Feb. 14, 2017
By Matt Winkeljohn | The Good Word
– If Saturday was your first Georgia Tech basketball game, you picked a perfect window through which to view the Yellow Jackets as they rallied from a most dreadful start to beat Boston College, 65-54, with their every essence displayed.
For those not among the fabulously warm and impressively large crowd of 7,391, let’s review one contest that worked as a compendium for an entire season. Maybe this will help anyone not already climbing onto to an old gold and white bandwagon that’s picking up speed make the switch back to the right side.
Here are chapters from that game that together form the book the Jackets (15-10, 6-6 ACC) are writing this season while edging their way into conversation about a possible NCAA Tournament bid:
1. They’re often challenged offensively:
Look, Tech doesn’t always miss its first 10 shots, nor 22-of-24 to start games, but what was that? The Jackets missed 10-of-13 layups or dunks in the first half against the ACC’s last-ranked defense.
Head coach Josh Pastner feared that basketball might be cancelled on The Flats.
“I’ve never seen anything like it,” he said. “I didn’t know if we were going to have to call Marvin and give everybody their money back. That was not a good show.”
Tech ranks No. 259 nationally in Kenpom’s adjusted offensive efficiency, scoring 99.9 points for every 100 possessions. The Top ACC teams are North Carolina (No. 5 at 121.8) and Wake Forest (No. 10 at 119.5).
No calls were made to associate athletics director/administration and finance Marvin Lewis, however, and the head bean counter and the Jackets held onto their beans because …
2. Tech is rock-solid defensively:
The Jackets trailed just 22-15 at halftime after limiting the Eagles to 9-of-35 shooting in the first half. This, though, is what Tech does just about all the time.
Guess how many points No. 9 North Carolina scored at Tech on Dec. 31, when the Jackets upset them? That would be 63, after averaging 89.
The NCAA Tournament Selection Committee for the first time released its current top 16 projected seeds the other day, and two ACC teams – UNC and Florida State – were projected as No. 2s.
Tech beat them both, clamping down on the Seminoles, 78-56, on Jan. 25.
The Jackets rank No. 8 nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency, allowing 91 points per 100 possessions.
It starts with big man in the middle, where junior center Ben Lammers leads the ACC in blocked shots (as Tech does as a team) with 3.24 swats per game. He deferred three BC attempts, the Jackets seven overall. BC blocked one shot.
“I’m not sure there’s another player in the league that can dictate the terms of the game on both sides of the floor,” said Boston College head coach Jim Christian. “He takes away everything at the front of the rim.”
Tech would not rally on the strength of blocked and altered shots alone. This is the latest point in ACC play where the Jackets have been at .500 since 2009-10 because …
3. The No. 1 principal of this team is stick-to-it-iveness:
Any time you put the word relentless into play there is a danger of over-use, but as a unit, the one thing that can be most often counted upon from these Jackets is their collective will and force. With perhaps two exceptions all season – at Tennessee and at Duke – Tech has never stopped hammering away.
They’ve smashed their own fingers and thumbs a few times, but they’re going to keep coming after you.
Lammers made just 1-of-7 shots in the first half. Freshman Josh Okogie, the team’s leading scorer, missed all five of his. Yet at halftime, “defense wasn’t the problem. We knew the offense was going to come,” Okogie recalled. “Coach didn’t get on us too hard. Sometimes, that just happens. We feed off each other’s energy. Coach hates negative energy.”
Sure enough, juices flowed after intermission, and the Jackets scored on five of their first seven possessions – four times in the paint and once from the free throw line.
The Jackets were succeeding while making 10-of-11 layups and dunks in the second half, and scoring 32 of their 50 points in the paint.
This was vintage stuff because …
4. For Tech to succeed, the ball has to move and it did:
For their offensive limitations, the Jackets are among the nation’s top sharing teams. Their assist ratios are routinely high. Heath had seven dimes, all in the second half, Moore had six, Lammers four.
After turning the ball over on nine of their first 26 possessions in the game, and 10 times in the first half, Tech turned it over four times in the second, when they shot 65.5 percent (19-of-29). The passes were smarter.
“We ended up with 18 assists on 24 made field goals, but we had 15 assists on 19 in the second half, which is a tremendous stat,” Pastner said.
Great as it was that the ball was moving, it takes players to convert those passes, and the Jackets are far surpassing preseason predictions, most of which pegged them to finish next-to-last or last in the ACC because …
5. They have more talent than given credit for:
Tadric Jackson stole the show Saturday, scoring a career-high 29 points off the bench on 12-of-21 shooting.
“We made them guard the ball screen, kept their guards moving,” he said.
The junior guard has shown flashes this season, and he was on against BC, attacking the basket, posting up weaker Eagles and flicking in a couple 3-pointers.
“He’s a very strong guard,” Christian said. “We knew he was going to drive. He’s a good post-up guard so in that area he’s a little bit of a matchup problem for us; we don’t have a big guard like that.”
Lammers, the Big Barometer, made 5-of-6 shots in the second half to finish with 14 points and 17 rebounds. That was his 12th double-double of the season (and in his career). Six have come in ACC games. The Jackets have won every time.
Okogie, a candidate for ACC freshman of the year, made but 3-of-11 shots, yet finished with 12 points on the strength of 6-of-8 work at the free throw line.
More importantly, he grabbed 12 rebounds, all defensive, which was perfect because …
6. The Jackets multi-task, especially when it comes to guard rebounding:
In his first game after missing two with an abdominal injury, Moore grabbed six of his eight defensive rebounds in the second half. Corey Heyward also grabbed a defensive rebound in limited first-half action, and Jackson pulled one. That’s 22 defensive rebounds from Tech guards, crashing the glass.
“I’m all about guard rebounding,” Pastner said. “I think that’s a direct correlation of the head coach.”
Guard rebounding was more important Saturday, but the Jackets’ most versatile player and second-leading rebounder, senior forward Quinton Stephens, was limited by a bothersome sprained ankle. He didn’t play at all in the final 35 minutes, but Tech went on to win going away because …
7. They’re better at doing the right thing more often:
The Jackets took the lead through a sequence of actions that encapsulate them.
First, Lammers blocked a dunk attempt by BC’s Mo Jeffers, Moore grabbing the rebound. The Jackets were off and running, the ball moving.
From the right elbow, Heath fired to the top of the circle, where Moore caught. He’d attempted one 3-pointer in ACC action all season, and missed.
He made that one for a 34-32 lead with 12:28 left in the game. Tech never trailed nor was tied again. This was about making the right play, whomever the player.
“Justin’s 3 to give us the lead, getting that 3 was big,” Pastner said. “When he’s open like that, he’s got to shoot it.”
The Jackets rolled from there, Jackson going nuts to tie several players for the ninth-highest scoring total in Tech history in an ACC game (although 48 times a Jacket has scored more than 29).
Tech never broke stride, in part because …
8. McCamish Pavilion was rocking:
If you haven’t been there yet, you’re running out of chances to enjoy the juices that are flowing on The Flats.
There’s a distinct and growing synergy around the Jackets as they’re surprising college basketball, and after Wednesday’s game at Miami, they’ll return to Atlanta for consecutive home games Sunday against Syracuse and Feb. 21 against NC State.
Following a trip to Notre Dame, Tech’s final home game will be Feb. 28 against Pitt before the regular season ends at Syracuse.
It’s fun again, with Pastner and players throwing love back at fans.
“The crowd was great today again,” the coach said. “Great energy. It was loud. The crowd has helped us win some games this year.”