Reviewing Georgia Tech’s loss to Virginia Tech

Georgia Tech's Quinton Stephens (12) misses the last shot of the team's NCAA college basketball game against Virginia Tech in Blacksburg Va., Wednesday, Jan. 18, 2017. Virginia Tech won 62-61. (Matt Gentry/The Roanoke Times via AP)

Georgia Tech’s Quinton Stephens (12) misses the last shot of the team’s NCAA college basketball game against Virginia Tech in Blacksburg Va., Wednesday, Jan. 18, 2017. Virginia Tech won 62-61. (Matt Gentry/The Roanoke Times via AP)

Looking back at Georgia Tech’s 62-61 loss to Virginia Tech Wednesday night in Blacksburg,Va. For more coverage, you can read the “5 things” story here, post-game quotes here, breakdown of Georgia Tech’s final two possessions here and Hokies coach Buzz Williams’ laudatory assessment of center Ben Lammers here.

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Another strong shooting game for the Jackets from outside the 3-point arc redeemed another pretty forgettable shooting game from 2-point range. Georgia Tech was 17-for-37 from 2-point range (45.9 percent), which is not good at all, but 6-for-14 outside of it. The Yellow Jackets were effective on defense, again. Consider that Virginia Tech’s eFG for the season is 55.5 percent, one of the highest rates in the country.

Turnover percentage was also better than the season average for Georgia Tech. Offensive rebounding was way down.

One thought

I don’t think Georgia Tech played particularly well on offense, although the numbers would not indicate as much. The Yellow Jackets missed a slew of shots at the rim. They didn’t do much on the offensive glass against a team for which defensive rebounding is not a strength. They didn’t do the job from the free-throw line.

And yet, against a team that was 10-1 at home going into the game, that two weeks ago was in the AP top 25, that ran Duke off its floor and that could be considered an NCAA bubble team, Georgia Tech had shots in its last two possessions to win the game.

“I’m very, very proud of our guys,” coach Josh Pastner said. “They battled, they competed, they fought.”

This team might not actually be that bad. It’s a little bit like each game removes one more brick from the foundation supporting the idea that the Jackets are unavoidably destined for the very bottom of the ACC. Part of it is that the league appears flatter, as in more equal, than it has in a while.

No team is undefeated after Florida State’s defeat of Notre Dame Wednesday night. There are 10 teams between 4-2 and 2-4. But a larger part of it is that Georgia Tech defends well and looks like it’s getting better offensively.

“It’s almost like I know we’re really good just by the way we played,” forward Quinton Stephens said. “I feel like we should have come out with a win. I think Virginia Tech did a good job; Seth Allen hit a tough shot, so you’ve got to respect it. I want to win so bad, and I know we can, so I’m excited, but it’s like, I feel like we really should have won that game.”

The thing is, though, that there’s probably not much difference between this team finishing 5-13 and 9-9. I think the Jackets are going to be in a lot of games the rest of the way. Actually winning them will require another bounce or rebound, last night being a perfect example. One more shot or rebound or loose ball or two more free throws and the game is looked at entirely differently, which, I imagine I’ve said often, is just kind of a crazy notion. It’s kind of like the electoral college. It’s as though Virginia Tech won the vote 50.5-49.5 but gets 100 percent in the win-loss column. (Please do not interpret this as any sort of political statement.)

The website kenpom.com projects Georgia Tech to finish 7-11 in the ACC for a final regular-season record of 16-15. What would have been completely laughable three weeks ago seems entirely reasonable now.

Georgia Tech's Josh Okogie (5) drives to the basket and is called for an offensive foul against Virginia Tech's Zach LeDay (32) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in Blacksburg Va., Wednesday, Jan. 18 2017. (Matt Gentry/The Roanoke Times via AP)

Georgia Tech’s Josh Okogie (5) drives to the basket and is called for an offensive foul against Virginia Tech’s Zach LeDay (32) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in Blacksburg Va., Wednesday, Jan. 18 2017. (Matt Gentry/The Roanoke Times via AP)

Stat(s) of the game

Virginia Tech shot 6-for-25 from 3-point range, 24 percent. The Hokies came into the game shooting 39.4 percent, 30th in the country. It was their worst performance of the season. North Carolina (5-for-26) and Clemson (7-for-24) had similar fates against the Jackets. It’s hard to reconcile with how N.C. State (10-for-25), Duke (16-for-31) and Louisville (9-for-16) shot 3-pointers. Further, the Hokies had a number of clean looks at the basket that they missed. Hokies guard Ahmed Hill, who was shooting 44.2 percent going into the game, was 0-for-4.

The obvious answer is that Georgia Tech was fortunate that all three teams (North Carolina, Clemson and Virginia Tech) just had horrendous shooting games, but the more it happens, the less satisfying an answer that is. Hokies coach Buzz Williams said something after the game that Georgia Tech made it difficult to get into a rhythm offensively with the variety of defensive looks that it gave. Might that be an answer?

Georgia Tech only had five rebounds in 30 opportunities, a 17 percent rate against a team that is one of the weakest defensive rebounding teams in the country. Center Ben Lammers was kept off the offensive glass for just the second time this season.

Individually speaking

Lammers tied Alvin Jones’ school record for most blocks in an ACC game with eight. He had six by halftime, and he influenced several more misses with his reach. As I was leaving Cassell Coliseum last night, it occurred to me that he may well be All-ACC, ACC all-defensive team and ACC most improved player of the year. It would be an unprecedented treble for a Georgia Tech player, as no Jacket has ever been named most improved player.

Lammers didn’t play his best offensive game – 12 points on 6-for-11 shooting, and Pastner said he needed to be more assertive. (Things you probably wouldn’t have expected to hear a few months ago – Pastner being critical of Lammers for only making six baskets.) In part because of the way Virginia Tech was defending him in the post, he took just three shots in the first half, which is really when Georgia Tech got itself in trouble. The Jackets played phenomenal defense but had some egregious turnovers and misses and won only two offensive rebounds and as a result led only 29-28. It was a lot of really good play without much to show for it, which was costly.

Stephens led all scorers with 18 points, including 5-for-10 shooting from 3-point range. In the past three games, Stephens is 18-for-42 from the field and 11-for-25 from 3-point range for a total of 56 points. In the first 113 games of his career, Stephens had four games with 15 points or more. He has three in his past three. He also had 11 rebounds for his fourth double-double of the season. He didn’t get the game-winner, but the 3-pointers were big, one of which tied the game at 55 after the Jackets had trailed most of the half, and he made a clutch play late, assisting on a go-ahead basket in the final minute by driving to the basket to draw a double team before laying off a bounce pass to Lammers for an uncontested layup.

Likewise, guard Josh Heath, whose career field-goal percentage at Tech going into the Clemson game was 38.1 percent, has shot 71.4 percent in the past three games, including 4-for-7 against Virginia Tech for 12 points. It’s the first time in his career that he has had back-to-back double-figure scoring games. I would suggest that his shooting percentage in the past three games is probably untenable, but perhaps it speaks to Heath absorbing Pastner’s message to his point guards that they don’t have to win the game, but just manage it and not lose it.

Quote of the game

“I’m excited for the team. We’re not going to sulk on this. We’re going to watch film – I’m not looking forward to the film session simply because it’s tougher after a loss, but we’re going to keep fighting.” – Stephens

From my iPhone

lanestadiumt

The “T” was not purloined. You may remember that during the weekend of the Georgia Tech-Virginia Tech football game, the athletic department posted sentries to guard the “T” in the Lane Stadium sign outside the stadium. The watch remained in effect until Sunday, in fact. I drove by the stadium on the way to Cassell Coliseum to document the evidence of Virginia Tech’s proud stand.

On a personal note

The drive up I-77 north of Charlotte en route to Blacksburg, Va., takes you past Davidson, N.C., home of Davidson College. Seeing the expressway sign for it reminded me of one of my less glorious days. In the summer before my senior year of high school, my dad and I took a tour of a few North Carolina schools – Duke, North Carolina, Wake Forest and Davidson. (I grew up outside of Chicago. Perhaps fate was already calling me to the ACC.)

Anyway, I had an interview with an admissions officer at Davidson, and didn’t think much of it until I got a thank-you card from him a little while later. Presumably by accident, he included his notes of the interview in the letter. I forget the wording – I kept it, but I think my mom must have thrown it away – but it said something along the lines of “I almost always can find something positive to say about students we interview, but that was not the case here.”

I don’t remember the particulars of the interview; I was actually a pretty good student and did a lot of extracurricular stuff. I kind of just think I was not very good at what you would call making an impression. My guess is I probably said some dumb stuff, not as in inflammatory, but just not very aware of how things I was saying about myself were actually sounding. Some might say I’m still overcoming that problem. The funny thing is, it wasn’t even my worst college interview.

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