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#TGW: Keep Pushing It

Nov. 12, 2016

By Matt Winkeljohn | The Good Word

– Barely into a new era, two things are clear about the Georgia Tech men’s basketball team: the Yellow Jackets are a lot better when they don’t give the ball away and at times they might turn it over a lot.

More information will be needed to confirm other indications, but as the Jackets beat Tennessee Tech 70-55 in McCamish Pavilion, early returns from Josh Pastner’s first game on The Flats offered hints.

Freshman Josh Okogie scored 18 points and grabbed five rebounds — in 21 energetically played, foul-plagued minutes — and is energetic.

At least two returning players who hadn’t played much — Ben Lammers and Corey Heyward — have amped up their games to better match their coach’s adrenaline level.

Pastner’s quest for the frenetic is unmistakable. As he said after the game, “I was disappointed in our pace of play. I still think we’ve got to play way faster.

“We’ve spent so much time on pace of play and attack mode, and I thought a lot of times we were just paralyzed in terms of the way we were playing, a lot of standing and not enough playing. I would like us to [score] up in the 80s and 90s.”

The turnover summation would never rank as a surprise, and with Pastner preaching about playing fast and new and inexperienced players everywhere, it’s easy to wonder if Georgia Tech can avoid the turnover bug.

The Jackets were bit for a while.

They coughed the ball up on 11 of 34 first-half possessions (32.4 percent), and led 30-27 at halftime. Upon turning the ball over just once in the first 12-plus minutes in the second half, they built the lead to as many as 16 points.

Halftime “adjustments” helped. Georgia Tech had four turnovers on 32 possessions in the second half, shooting 69.2 percent (18-of-26) with 11 assists.

The Jackets also outscored the Golden Eagles 26-16 in the paint after scoring 14 points inside with six assists before intermission.

Okogie, who picked up three fouls in just 10 first-half minutes, said that Georgia Tech improved when playing more like their coach wants.

“We were more stagnant on offense in the first half,” he explained after making 7-of-9 shots. “Once we started cutting more, cutting harder, it kind of opened up space for us.”

On a variety of shots, including 1-of-2 from beyond the 3-point line, the freshman displayed more strength and athleticism than finesse.

Pastner did not seem surprised by the 6-foot-5, 207-pounder.

“I think Josh Okogie down the road can be an All-ACC player,” the coach said. “I just didn’t think he played real well tonight. He can play way better. Two of his four fouls were 94 feet from the basket in the first half, silly fouls. He probably played about 20 percent of his ability.”

Pastner offered more to spark excitement, albeit partly by way of more passive-aggressive, critical-optimistic assessment.

Lammers went for career highs of 15 points and five blocked shots, falling one short of career high with eight rebounds. He turned the ball over once in 33 minutes, made 7-of-9 shots and his only free throw.

The 6-10 junior from San Antonio looks more willing to participate, which is a must for this coach.

“Coach [Eric] Reveno has done a good job with him and the big man stuff,” Pastner said of Lammers. “Ben had 15 and eight and he could easily, should’ve had about 25 and 16. He’s good enough to get that. He’s got to be more aggressive even though he had five blocks.”

That’s saying something since Ben was spastic vs. his track record.

Lammers in 55 previous games for Tech attempted one shot every six minutes. He didn’t exactly jack it up Friday, but in scoring with a feathery jumper inside 16 feet and power moves in traffic, he cut loose every three minutes, 40 seconds against Tennessee Tech. He made 7-of-9.

“I don’t know why, but all throughout my basketball career I’ve been a passive guy,” he said. “Through 21 years, I guess it’s finally starting to sink in that my team will be better if I am more aggressive on the offensive end.”

Heyward fits in this discussion group.

Noted for his defense, his playing time shrank from 527 minutes to 225 to 22 over the past three seasons. He’s never been a scorer, either.

In 774 career minutes, he’d taken 66 shots (in 59 games) or one every 11.7 minutes.

Friday, he made 3-of-5 shots, once attacking the rim and converting in a crowded lane, and another time sticking back an offensive rebound. For good measure, he made both his free throws to score eight points, and added three rebounds, three assists and two steals in 25 minutes.

Sure, he looked off one open 3-pointer and missed his only try from distance, but after taking one shot in every five of his minutes, a Pastner principle was highlighted.

The new head coach is not looking for specialists. To play for Pastner, every player must do everything.

Georgia Tech missed two potential starters in point guard Josh Heath, who is suspended for three more games, and guard Tadric Jackson, who is expected back from a leg injury Monday against Southern.

The Jackets have a new formula, and it can be loose on form.

“I don’t want to call a play every time down. I don’t like doing that,” Pastner said. “I want our guys to be able to play with freedom within structure. We need to learn how to play basketball without plays.”

The Yellow Jackets get another opportunity toward that end Monday night when Southern comes to town.


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