Jan. 14, 2015
By Matt Winkeljohn
The Good Word
Having had a couple chances to rinse, Georgia Tech will have a quick chance to repeat tonight, when the Yellow Jackets play host to No. 12 Notre Dame.
The idea of playing the Irish (15-2, 3-1 ACC) for the second time in 12 days might be a good thing, if the Jackets (9-6, 0-3) don’t make the mistake of making assumptions.
Notre Dame remains one of the nation’s most effective offensive teams, although the Irish numbers have dipped as they’ve entered ACC play. Tech, though, slowed the Irish much of the way before falling 83-76 in double overtime on Jan. 3 in South Bend, Ind.
Marcus Georges-Hunt scored 20 in the Jackets’ conference opener.
The Irish lead the nation in shooting percentage (53.5), and they’re 10th in 3-point shooting (40.7), yet they made just 1-of-12 long balls in regulation as the teams fought to a 59-all tie. That was 24 points below Notre Dame’s scoring average (83.3), which still ranks No. 8 in the nation.
Tech’s defense, particularly on the perimeter, and a 46-31 rebounding edge gave the Jackets more than a fighting chance.
The last time out, however, the Jackets were outrebounded for the first time this season, and badly, 41-29 last Saturday in a 76-69 loss at Wake Forest. The Jackets appeared to have assumed that because they had been so proficient on the boards that they would be again. The Demon Deacons had other ideas.
Playing Notre Dame again so quickly reduced preparation time, and increased the importance of fighting certain human instincts.
“Obviously, a lot of stuff is still fresh in your mind. One of the temptations is to say, ‘We did a lot of good things in stopping them in this way,’ and then not emphasizing that again,” said head coach Brian Gregory. “Offensively, they’re a very gifted team . . .
“We weren’t as good defensively, and we weren’t as good defending the 3 [Wake hit 7-of-19]. We weren’t near where we need to be on the glass. Those are the cornerstones of what we do. We got away from that and when you do that, you don’t stand a very good chance of winning.”
The best elements of the Jackets’ game at Wake Forest were tinged with issue.
Tech might have benefitted from them taking even more shots, however, and they were off paces on the boards while combining for five on the offensive end.
“I thought DeMarco took a big step in understanding what he did [poorly] on Wednesday [in a loss to Syracuse] and bouncing back,” Gregory said. “He finished the way I know he’s capable of finishing around the basket.
“You’ve got to have something you can count on, and through 14 games it was our defense and our rebounding. This was the first game we didn’t come through in those areas.”
The Jackets’ advantage inside may grow in McCamish Pavilion if reports that Notre Dame Tuesday suspended 6-foot-10 forward/center Zach Auguste are true; he has been the only non-guard to start for the Irish over their first 17 games, and he’s averaging 14.3 points and 6.4 rebounds. He has shot 65.3 percent.
It’s not like Notre Dame coach Mike Brey doesn’t have other options.
Jerian Grant (16.6 points per game, shooting 50.3 percent), Pat Connaughton (14.3, 49.7) and Demetrius Jackson (14.1, 55.1) are talented in multiple ways.
Grant is leading the ACC with 6.2 assists per game, Connaughton is No. 16 in the nation in 3-point percentage (45.7) and No. 21st with 48 makes.
The Irish won 11 consecutive games before falling 62-56 Saturday to No. 3 Virginia, one of the nation’s top defensive squads.
Tech is more likely to stick to its own defense rather than assume some of Virginia’s.
“You also have to have things tailored to your personnel. [The Cavs] are able to switch the ball screens more than maybe we are at times,” Gregory said. “Other than our last game, we’ve been pretty good defensively. A couple of our key coverages have to improve, though, because they were able to take advantage . . .
“You just got to keep fighting. There’s no easy answer. There’s no magic potion that I’m going to sprinkle on the guys or someone is going to sprinkle on me. You’ve just got to keep working, and believing that what you do well is good enough to put you in a position to win, and then finish out in a couple areas.”