Jan. 26, 2017
By Jon Cooper | The Good Word
– Josh Pastner would make a great Secretary of Energy.
He’s spoken about energy pretty much since day one in taking over as Georgia Tech men’s basketball coach.
He did so a lot more — as did his players — following Wednesday night’s 78-56, wire-to-wire rout of No. 6 Florida State at McCamish Pavilion. The word “E” word was used some 25 times.
“It’s all about energy. I’m all about energy,” said Pastner, whose Jackets moved to 12-8, 4-4 in the conference. “You can’t be aligned with me if you’re not an energy giver. It won’t work. You’re either an energy taker or an energy giver. If you’re an energy taker we’re not aligned. But if you’re a giver you can make things happen and that’s what we need to be. For us to have any chance in this major rebuild we’re going to have to play with full energy.”
The Seminoles basically had no chance as the Jackets gave full energy taking a 10-point lead 3:30 into the game, leading by 26 at the break and by 29 in the second half. It gave Tech its second win over a top-10 team in regular season play for the first time since 2003-04.
Wednesday’s opening salvo saw eight points by center Ben Lammers, who recorded his 10th double-double and 18th double-digit-scoring game of the season (18 points and 11 rebounds) and four by guard Josh Okogie, who stuffed the stat sheet with 35 points and 14 rebounds — both game-highs — five assists and two steals. The 12-2 start whipped the crowd at McCamish into a frenzy and raised an already-high intensity level even higher on the Jackets’ side.
“Everybody was energized today and we fed off each other’s energy,” said Okogie. “I don’t think they had the energy to match our energy. So we were just feeding off that. All our plays, rebounds, are just energy. We didn’t really do a good job of getting into our offense tonight but the energy that we had tonight kind of overshadowed that.”
Florida State, winners of 14 of 15 coming in, had no answer.
“Sometimes in basketball, teams can get in a mentally emotional focus that brings them up to a level where they’re hitting on all cylinders,” said Seminoles coach Leonard Hamilton. “Their focus and their execution and their ability to stay connected today, we probably would have had a hard time had we been playing at our very best because they played outstanding basketball.”
The Jackets quick haymaker actually beat the Seminoles at their own game.
“We made sure we were the aggressor,” said Quinton Stephens, who chipped in 13 points, five rebounds, and a block while playing his usual devil-may-care style in throwing his body all over the court pursuing loose balls. “That was our main focus, we had to attack them first. We knew they were trying to get us out in the first four minutes so we just attacked them.”
The Jackets’ field goal percentage defense, which came in second in ACC play, frustrated the Seminoles. Tech held the ACC’s best shooting team (.498) and second-highest scoring team (85.7 ppg) to 15 points in the first half, limiting them to 17.1 percent (6-for-35) shooting and only 1-for-11 from three-point range. They held the Seminoles without a basket for 9:30 in the first half to break the game open.
“We had good looks, and we came up short,” said Hamilton. “It wasn’t so much what we didn’t do. You have to be positive about what they were able to do.”
“We executed, we guarded,” said Pastner. “Florida State is one of the top 20 offensive teams in the country, and we played great defense.”
The Jackets also hit the boards, pulling in 53 rebounds. More important, 32 of those were pulled down from guards. Okogie led with 14, Tadric Jackson and last-minute starter Corey Heyward each grabbed six, point Josh Heath had five and Justin Moore had one. The guards accounted for 50 percent of Tech’s 14 offensive rebounds.
“A big thing for me was guard rebounding,” said Pastner. “Twenty five defensive rebounds from our guards. I have always said guards rebounding is so important to successful teams, and that’s important to me. Josh Okogie played really well today because he rebounded.”
Okogie added to his impressive freshman resume, as his second 30-point game of the season (his 35 were three off his career-high) made him only the third Yellow Jackets freshman with multiple 30-point games — he joins Mark Price and Kenny Anderson.
Josh O. did it the hard way, fearlessly driving the lane and often taking a pounding from the gigantic FSU frontliners.
“I did,” admitted Okogie, whose 17 free throw attempts were one more than the entire Florida State team (he outscored them from the line 14-10). “The energy I had from my teammates, I couldn’t just go down like that. They were counting on me, so I put it upon myself just to play through it.
“When one goes down we all go down so we have to help each other up,” he added. “We’re doing a good job of helping each other up, whether we’re down 30 or up 30. We’re going to play the same way. We’re going to give each other the same energy.”
The Jackets’ also gave each other scoring opportunities, as they had 20 assists on the 26 baskets, led by Heath (six), with Okogie adding five and Lammers adding four.
Tech stayed patient despite the press by the lengthy Seminoles and continued to attack the basket. Tech actually took advantage of the aggressiveness of FSU’s shot-blockers Jonathan Isaac, second in the ACC in blocks behind Lammers, and humongous centers Michael Ojo (7-1, 304) and Christ Koumadje (7-4, 233), finding open men for layups when they challenged and getting pull-up jumpers when they didn’t.
“We tried to use their high-pressure against them, which I feel like we did a pretty good job of,” said Lammers, who also had four assists and three blocks.
“There were times the bigs didn’t really step all the way up,” said Okogie. “He was playing the pass and the shot and I was just able to pull up.”
The Jackets pulled away from the Seminoles, who never got closer than 18 with 8:36 to go. But Pastner called a timeout then took advantage of the media timeout a few seconds later to completely recharge his team.
They’d respond with a 7-2 burst and the lead never got below 20 after that. That burst was typical of Tech’s ability to answer Seminole runs all day.
“Basketball’s a game of runs,” said Lammers. “They’re a good team so we knew they were going to make a run. It was just a matter of sustaining it and then making our own run after it. We know from personal experience, when a team if you try to make a run and they keep on making quick-hitters right back it can be frustrating.”
The ‘Noles showed they knew the value of energy as they tried to harness some in their come back.
“They really played off their energy,” said Stephens. “When they made a little run they really tried to catch up with their energy, their yelling. We just made our own plays.”
In the end, they never matched Tech’s energy — be it from senior and last-minute starter Heyward or sophomore forward Abdoulaye Gueye, who provided quality minutes, especially when Lammers picked up his fourth foul with 4:41 left.
“I’m very proud of [Gueye],” said Pastner. “He gave us good minutes, and we needed that.
“He’s an energy-giver,” Pastner added. “Basketball is a game of energy, it’s about emotion. In this game, to play for me to be aligned with me you have to have a little energy.”
Same with Heyward.
“Corey’s one of our toughest players,” said Lammers. “He’s great on defense. He got into a little foul trouble, but that just comes with being an aggressive defender. He was a major reason why we were able to hold them to such a low point score.”
The energy and effort on Wednesday was similar to what they showed in the losses at Virginia Tech and Virginia, but this time they got a W to show for it.
Their passion is catching on and is becoming a great watch.
“We had a great crowd tonight, just terrific. We got a great home-court advantage with that,” said Pastner. “I saw [Georgia Tech] President [G.P. “Bud”] Peterson there, he was about as fired up and he was ready to come in the game. He was like one of the students.
“We’ll continue to get better,” he added. “I don’t ever forget the first exhibition game, we had to go to overtime to beat Shorter and got lucky to win that game. This is another great win for us for people to see what we’re trying to do and the vision of what we are trying to accomplish in the long term.”