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TGW: Old-School Defense

Jan. 24, 2016

By Matt Winkeljohn | The Good Word

With a modernized offensive approach that is paying off with improvement at that end of the floor, Georgia Tech finds itself one-third of the way through ACC play looking to go back in time on defense.

The Yellow Jackets’ offensive numbers are nearly all up, yet sagging defense has been an issue and it was problem No. 1 in a 75-71 loss Saturday to Louisville.

The improvements and the slippage were both evident.

The Cardinals (16-3, 5-1 ACC) entered the game No. 1 in the conference in scoring defense (allowing 60.2 points per game), No. 1 in field goal defense (36.3), No. 1 in blocked shots (5.2) and No. 1 in rebounding margin (+12.3).

While scoring 11 more points that Louisville is accustomed to surrendering, Tech (11-8, 1-5) shot 42.1 percent (45.8 in the second half), had just two shots blocked, and outrebounded the Cardinals 41-33 (19-12 in the second half).

Louisville, however, shot 60 percent in the second half (15-of-25) and the Jackets forced just one turnover after intermission.

Senior swingman Marcus Georges-Hunt turned in another fine performance, scoring a game-high 23 points while making all 12 of his free throws – a career high. Nick Jacobs added 16 points and 10 rebounds off the bench, but the Jackets had fits with Louisville’s big men.

The Cardinals scored on 19-of-32 second-half possessions, averaging 1.3 points every time they had the ball. Sophomore Anas Mahmoud, a 7-footer who had never scored more than seven points, scored 15 on a variety of slithery moves.

“We scored 71 points, but our defense just isn’t quite where it needs to be on a consistent basis,” said head coach Brian Gregory. “It is in stretches, but not on a consistent basis.”

Tech led 39-32 at halftime only to turn the ball over on three of the first four possessions of the second half. Louisville tied the game when Chinanu Onuaku rebounded his own missed shot and score a layup with 17:13 left.

That didn’t come as a surprise. Onuaku finished with 12 points and 11 rebounds – his sixth straight double-double in ACC play. He leads the league in rebounding (12.6).

The Jackets pushed the lead to eight points, only to see Louisville chip away with consistency. Mahmoud’s layup made it 55-all with 9:04 to go.

The Egyptian was averaging 2.9 points and 11.2 minutes after averaging 1.2 and 7.9 as a freshman. He made 6-of-9 shots in 27 minutes Saturday.

“His game has improved, and he can put the ball on his floor better,” Georges-Hunt said.

Tech’s offense has improved. They entered Saturday’s game No. 1 in the ACC in 3-point shooting (40.5 percent) and No. 5 in scoring (74.2) behind North Carolina, Notre Dame, Duke and Virginia Tech.

Defensively, the Jackets entered No. 12 in scoring (77.8) and 10th in field goal defense (45 percent). That’s not Tech’s norm.

Georges-Hunt forced the ninth and final tie (69-69) when he made two free throws with 1:16 left, but he fouled out moments later when Mahmoud snuck across the lane and went up from point-blank range.

With 1:01 left, Georges-Hunt got Mahmoud’s shot, but officials whistled him for a foul.

“I thought I got it clean. I thought it was the same block [as on an earlier play] . . . it was a no call then,” Marcus said. “Their bigs did a great job of being patient. At times we would lose sight, I guess relax.”

Mahmoud, who’d made just 9-of-22 free throws this season, made both for a 71-69 lead that the Cardinals wouldn’t lose.

“Anas is the best passing big man, and his length bothers people, but more importantly he’s got a great low post game,” said Louisville head coach Rick Pitino. “He’s just physically a little weak. But per minute played, he’s the best stat stuffer on the team.”

Tech’s 11th and final turnover came moments later, when Tadric Jackson was trapped by Louisville and Damion Lee intercepted his lob pass for Adam Smith.

“If you have good pressure, it will take its effect,” Pitino said. “I always equate it to a boxer going to the body, and you don’t really see any dividends until the 11th round. [It’s] the same thing with the press.”

The Cardinals added four more free throws, sandwiched around a Smith layup, and won by scoring their final seven points from the line.

Tech will work at tightening up that defense before games Wednesday at N.C. State and Saturday at Syracuse.

“We’re going to work on it all week, try to figure out a way to stop the post,” Jacobs said. “We’ve just got to start over [Sunday] and get better in practice…Winning just comes from within. We’ve all got to dig in and fight.”

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