Georgia Tech played far better than it had in recent games, but still fell short. The Yellow Jackets lost a 72-70 decision to No. 18 Clemson on Sunday night at McCamish Pavilion.
Guard Josh Okogie led with 26 points on 7-for-10 shooting.
Here are five observations from the game:
1. Taking better care of the ball
As promised, coach Josh Pastner took players out as soon as they committed a turnover in the first half, a maneuver he resorted to after the Jackets turned the ball over 49 times in consecutive losses to Virginia, North Carolina and Florida State. Pastner had identified the team’s turnover problem as a major factor in the three losses, saying that Tech could withstand other failings as long as it was giving itself a chance in games by getting a sufficient number of shots.
His vow may have had its intended effect. The Jackets lost the ball only three times in the first half in 30 possessions, a rate well under their season average (19.7 percent, per KenPom).
For the game, Tech turned the ball over nine times, under its average of 13.1 per game.
“The reason we had a chance to win the game or tie the game (at the end) was because we took care of the ball for the most part,” Pastner said.
And while it was an improvement, Clemson was similarly attentive to its possessions. The Tigers committed only seven turnovers, well under its season rate of 12.9 per game. The Jackets were forcing 12.6 turnovers per game in ACC play.
2. Strong game from Gueye
Forward Abdoulaye Gueye continued his standout play, scoring 14 points on 7-for-14 shooting. Pastner said that he wanted to get more shots for Gueye and center Ben Lammers, as they’ve been the team’s most efficient scorers recently when given opportunities.
“Right now, A.D.’s become one of our best, if not our best, scorer at times, throwing him the ball,” Pastner said. “He’s got such a pretty jump hook, so we’ve got to keep doing that.”
The Jackets clearly were intent on getting Gueye the ball in the post. He scored on post moves on three of Tech’s first four possessions as the Jackets took early leads of 9-3, 19-9 and 24-12 behind Gueye’s all-court game. Gueye has now scored in double figures in five of Tech’s past seven games, a considerable achievement considering his single-game scoring high before this season was five points.
“I always say, just bring the energy, and the rest will come,” Gueye said.
Gueye left the game briefly in the second half with what he said was a bruise on his side, but returned to the floor shortly after.
3. Clemson hot from 3-point range
As Tech played about as well as it could on offense in the first half, making 16 of 28 shots (57.1 percent), the Tigers stayed close with superior 3-point shooting. Clemson was 7-for-13 from 3-point range in the first half, accounting for a third of the Tigers’ points. As a result, Tech led only 38-36 at the half. Clemson guard Gabe DeVoe, on his way to a team-high and career-high 25 points, was 4-for-5 from 3-point range in the first half.
“Gabe DeVoe was great in the first half,” Clemson coach Brad Brownell said. “He obviously made a bunch of deep 3’s against the zone and that kept us in the game until we kind of settled in a little bit and scored a little bit in different ways.”
Further, one of the first-half 3-pointers turned into a four-point play when Curtis Haywood fouled Shelton Mitchell on a shot with just under a minute to play before halftime. It was the third time in the past four games that Tech has given up a four-point play, each of them at critical junctures.
Clemson finished the game 10-for-21 from 3-point range (47.6 percent), which was the most 3-pointers that Tech has given up in ACC play and also the second highest rate against Tech this season.
Clemson came into the game shooting 36.3 percent from 3-point range and shot 3-for-20 in its most recent game, a 61-36 loss to Virginia.
“They hit deep 3’s and hand-in-their-face 3’s, and that bit us in the butt,” Pastner said.
4. When the game was lost
Midway through the second half, Tech trailed 54-49 and was trying to get back into the game. The Jackets had done well taking care of the ball, but were done in by back-to-back turnovers.
Guard Jose Alvarado lost the ball on the perimeter, leading directly to a Clemson layup. On the next possession, Okogie had the ball stripped on the dribble, which again was converted into a fast-break score for a 56-49 lead.
Pastner has railed against “pick sixes,” live-ball turnovers in which the opposition can quickly score in the open court.
“We did take care of the ball,” Pastner said, but “those were two big turnovers because it’s back-to-back, and they were both pick-sixes.”
Down seven, Tech had to continue to fight uphill to close the lead, finally cutting the lead to two points at 70-68 with 1:35 left on an Okogie 3-pointer on a pass from Gueye. Okogie tied the score at 70-70 with free throws with 41.2 seconds left, but Marcquise Reed answered with a layup at the 25-second mark to take a 72-70 lead.
After Okogie missed a layup to tie the score with under 10 seconds to play, and the ball went out of bounds, Reed was fouled on the ensuing inbounds pass. Reed missed the front end of a one-and-one with 3.6 seconds left, but Tech was unable to get off a shot before the buzzer.
5. Where Tech stands now
Tech is now 10-11 overall and 3-5 in the ACC, behind its pace of 2016-17, when the Jackets were 13-8 and 5-4 after 21 games. Sunday, in fact, was the one-year anniversary of the Jackets’ stunning upset of Notre Dame at McCamish.
The four-game losing streak is Pastner’s first in his career as a player, assistant and head coach. The Jackets played well enough to win Sunday, but were done in by Clemson’s 3-point shooting. They go into their Wednesday game at home against Syracuse still looking for answers.
Pastner said that the team has improved, despite the record.
“Like, we really played well (Sunday) and we executed well,” he said. “Just, this is the ACC.”