Recapping Georgia Tech’s 75-71 loss to No. 17 Louisville Saturday. (Five observations here)
1. Going into the game, Louisville was No. 1 in the country in defensive points per possession at .839 points per possession. For the first half, despite shooting 13-for-33 percent, Tech averaged 1.147 points per possession, which is about 37 percent more efficient than what the Cardinals had been allowing. What helped was going 11-for-12 from the free-throw line, holding onto the ball (four turnovers in 31 possession, a very solid 11.8 percent) and extending possessions with eight offensive rebounds that created nine second-chance points.
Tech was getting help from all over – on one play, for instance, Quinton Stephens created a turnover with quick hands on the perimeter, Josh Heath dove to the floor for the ball and shoveled it to Marcus Georges-Hunt as he raced by. Georges-Hunt got fouled and made both free throws. Two possessions later, Stephens crashed the offensive glass hard for a tip-in. Heath followed later by being ready to shoot for a quick-release 3-pointer and then a pull-up jumper on the next possession. Near the end of the half, Tadric Jackson picked guard Trey Lewis’ pocket and then went the length of the floor for a layup with the foul for a three-point play.
For context, 1.147 is a superior rate for anybody against any team. As a season average, that would be 11th in the country, according to teamrankings.com. For 20 minutes, Tech was running a clinic on Louisville.
For the game, Tech averaged an impressive 1.092 points per possession. The Jackets shot almost six percentage points better from the field than Louisville’s first five ACC opponents (42.1 percent to 36.3 percent), turned the ball over less, won rebounding margin and held Louisville to about its ACC shooting percentage (44.0 percent before the game, 44.3 percent on Saturday).
And, still, somehow Tech lost the game. The Jackets are now 1-5 in the ACC. The total of the margin of defeat in the five losses, four to RPI top-40 teams, is 27 points.
“It’s disappointing, because you battle ’em for the whole game, and they made some big plays and we weren’t able to make some of those plays,” coach Brian Gregory said.
2. How did Tech lose?
By a variety of means. The Jackets didn’t rebound well enough on the defensive end in the first half – Louisville had 10 offensive rebounds on 24 available chances – and gave up six second-chance points in the half.
Gregory estimated that Tech might have been up 10 or 12 points at halftime, instead of seven, had the Jackets done a better job on the glass. The Jackets gave up a 7-0 run in less than three minutes at the start of the second half to give the entire first-half lead away.
“We came out slow and they went on a run,” Georges-Hunt said.
Tech had to play 6 ½ minutes without Georges-Hunt in the second half when he picked up his third foul at the 17:28 mark. The margin didn’t change – he left with Tech up 39-37 and returned when it was 50-48 – but the Jackets did lose the opportunity to add some cushion with the assistance of their best player. And they were without him for the final 61 seconds after he fouled out, which was particularly noticeable in the first possession after he was disqualified and Tech was down two points.
In late-game possessions, Tech typically puts the ball in Georges-Hunt’s hands and asks him to create, but, without him, the Jackets were tentative and ended up losing the ball when Jackson got caught in the air and tried unsuccessfully passing to Adam Smith. Tech had to foul, and Louisville made four in a row from the line to put the game away.
“It’s unfortunate Marcus wasn’t in there at the end, but that’s part of the game,” Gregory said. “You can’t put yourself in that position.”
Also, Louisville shot 15-for-25 from the field in the second half, turned the ball over just once in 32 possessions and averaged 1.344 points per possession, which is scalding. The Cardinals shot 60 percent from the field in the second half, the second highest rate that Tech has allowed in a half this season.
Tech was hurt in the post, often on switches, and in transition. Center Anas Mahmoud, whom Tech recruited, scored 13 of his 15 points in the second half, making five of six attempts. Louisville coach Rick Pitino called him the key to the game.
“Their bigs, they did a great job of being patient and making their moves, but at times, we lose sight, I guess get too relaxed,” Georges-Hunt said, “and that’s when they go on their run. We just have to do a better job of getting consistent stops in the second half and making them shoot tough shots.”
3. The manner in which the games have played out is painfully familiar, but Tech’s record isn’t a great surprise. Looking at the first six ACC games at the end of the non-conference schedule, I figured there was a pretty good chance that Tech could play the first six games pretty well and still be 1-5, which is what has happened. North Carolina, Pittsburgh, Notre Dame and Louisville all look like tournament teams. The Virginia and Virginia Tech results flipped, of course.
The trouble is, if Tech is going to prove itself as the significantly improved team that it often appears to be, it has to win some of these games. if the Jackets only win the games they’re supposed to, they might win three or four games in the final 12, which would not be improvement at all.
Stat to note
Tech had had eight consecutive games in which it recorded an assist/turnover ratio better than one. The Jackets were 9/11 Saturday, an indication of the difficulty it had against Louisville’s pressure and matchup zone. All but two of Louisville’s opponents this season have been held to a ratio less than one.
A look at how Louisville and Tech fared in four critical statistical categories. More information about four factors here.
eFG – effective field goal percentage, which appropriately weights three-point field goals to give a truer measure of field-goal percentage
OReb – offensive rebound percentage; offensive rebounds relative to all available rebounds
TO% — turnover rate
FT/FG – free throws per field goal, which measures how effective a team was at getting to the free-throw line
Louisville was better in three of the categories, rebounding percentage being the only statistic that went Tech’s way, although free-throw rate was a virtual wash. The most critical difference was in turnover percentage, in my opinion. Turning the ball over six times to Tech’s 11, Louisville had 60 possessions that it ran to completion compared to 54 for Tech, which proved difference-making in a game decided by four points.
That said, a team that has an effective field-goal percentage of .492 and turns the ball over 9.1 percent of the time will probably win most games easily. Tech’s free-throw shooting (19 for 23) and strength on the glass (42.4 percent is a phenomenal number) helped keep the Jackets in the game, but, of course, weren’t enough.
At the game
Louisville fans might have made up a quarter or a third of the fans at the game. Attendance was 7,829. In his post-game remarks, Pitino thanked church groups for busing down from Louisville for the game. I suspect that it, in some respects, it may be easier to take a six-hour bus ride to Atlanta to watch the Cardinals than it is to get a ticket to watch them play at home.
Tech defensive end Roderick Rook-Chungong was scanning cards at the student gate prior to the game. I talked to him briefly. The team has been doing its early-morning conditioning workouts at Bobby Dodd Stadium, a change from its usual site at the Brock indoor practice facility, he said. In short, he said it’s been cold.
A tweet from Georges-Hunt
After the game, the Tech captain made a request for fans’ faith.