In a rare visit to a mid-major arena, Georgia Tech played the unwitting foil.
In control for much of the game, the Yellow Jackets permitted a late surge and lost 63-60 Wednesday night. Tech fell to 4-4 and limps into an extended break for final exams a bit askew.
The Jackets were done in by a 36-point game from Wofford guard Fletcher Magee. Tech suffered the rare defeat in which it shot 57.1 percent from the field while holding the opposition to 35.6 percent shooting.
The contributing factors were Tech’s 16 turnovers (compared to Wofford’s six) and the Jackets’ inability to stop Wofford from beyond the 3-point arc, where the Terriers made 12 of 30 attempts.
“I thought we played well for the most part, but when you give them 17 more shot attempts – that was the big thing,” coach Josh Pastner said.
Five observations from the game:
‘In a ditch’
Tech is in a bad place. Two games after losing to a team ranked No. 321 out of 351 Division I teams in RPI (Grambling State), the Jackets fell to a team that finished last season 189th in RPI and was picked to finish sixth in the Southern Conference this season in a coaches poll. But for Bethune-Cookman’s horrendous foul shooting in its 65-62 loss to Tech, the Jackets might well have lost to last year’s 347th-ranked team, as well.
“This is who we are,” Pastner said. “Every game’s a grind.”
The circumstances, once again: Tech is without guard Josh Okogie, the team’s leading scorer from last season and a preseason All-ACC selection, as he recovers from a finger that was dislocated in late October and then infected through an open wound. Center Ben Lammers is hobbled by an ankle injury that has prevented him from practicing for more than two weeks. And Pastner is having to give freshmen significant minutes – they played 93 of the 200 minutes Wednesday – and getting inconsistent production from them.
Wofford coach Mike Young recognized the difficulty of playing without Okogie and relying on freshmen.
“They’re in a ditch right now,” Young said. “Josh (Pastner)’ll pull ’em out of it. They’ll be fine.”
Tech will be off for final exams and will play its next game December 17 against Florida A&M. The Jackets will have three games after that (including a trip to Athens to play Georgia December 19) before ACC play starts at Notre Dame December 30. Already saddled with four losses against a weak non-conference schedule, the Jackets’ NCAA Tournament hopes rest on playing far better in the ACC than expected.
Lammers was hopeful that the break – during which he is not expected to practice in order to let his ankle heal – will be beneficial for the team, as will the accumulated experience for the younger players.
“Obviously, this isn’t ideal, but at the same time, it’s a very long season,” Lammers said. “We haven’t started ACC play yet.”
The Jackets were in control for much of the game, leading 10-2 early, 34-29 at the half and then 55-45 with 5:53 to play. Guard Tadric Jackson was highly effective driving to the basket. Guard Jose Alvarado was stroking 3-pointers. Lammers was controlling the defensive glass. And then the wheels fell off.
“We kind of got together and said, ‘We’re going to punch back right here,’” Wofford guard Fletcher Magee said.
From that point, Wofford made five of its final seven shots, including three 3-pointers. The last was the game-winning 3-pointer by Magee with 1.9 seconds left and Tech guard Curtis Haywood draped over him.
In their final nine possessions after taking the 55-45 lead, the Jackets turned the ball over three times and failed to get to the free-throw line.
“We haven’t been able to keep consistent 10-point leads,” Lammers said. “It’s something we really need to work on. As soon as they get within three or six, the game can change just like that.”
Gunner buries Jackets
Magee was the story of the game. He scored 36 points, which tied his career high and is the second most points scored on Tech in Pastner’s short tenure, and was 8-for-14 from 3-point range. His game-winning basket was taken well beyond the 3-point arc, and he hit a tough baseline jumper over Haywood with 1:18 to play that gave Wofford its first lead of the second half.
Magee was a first-team All-Southern Conference performer as a sophomore last season and came into the game averaging 26 points per game.
“He’s not Steph Curry, but he makes shots like Steph Curry does, at least college-wise,” Pastner said.
After Magee, Wofford’s second-leading scorer had eight points.
“It was one of those nights where a lot of them were falling and it definitely means a lot to do it to a big school like that,” Magee said.
It was a memorable night for Wofford, which opened its new Richardson Indoor Stadium this year. Tech was the first ACC school to play at Wofford since 1957, the result of a 2-for-1 deal that gave Tech two home games against the Terriers in exchange for one in Spartanburg. Wofford has a 2-for-1 with North Carolina in coming seasons.
Strong performance by Jackson
A stellar game by Jackson went to waste. He finished with 26 points – the second-highest total of his career – on 11-for-15 shooting. That’s pretty unusual efficiency for a player shooting 41.5 percent for the season and 38.8 percent for his career. Jackson did what he does best, drive to the basket and finish. Jackson scored on floaters and contested layups, collecting near all of his baskets at or near the rim.
He was perhaps at his best midway through the second half when he corralled a long defensive rebound midstride, raced downcourt and juked a Wofford defender at the basket for a layup.
Jackson also hit a big 3-pointer to tie the game at 60 with 19 seconds left, a score that ultimately gave Wofford time for the game-winner. He also had what would have been a big basket when Haywood found him cutting baseline and fed him for a dunk that would have given the Jackets a 59-56 lead with 1:38 to play, but he was called for traveling.
“He played really well,” said Pastner, who also made note of Jackson’s four turnovers. “He played within the confines of our offense.”
End of a streak
A quirky streak of Pastner’s went by the wayside. In his nine seasons as a head coach – seven at Memphis and now two at Tech – he had never lost three games in a row. In fact, going back to his time as a player and then assistant at Arizona, and then one year as an assistant at Memphis before becoming head coach, he had had only one other three-game losing streak.
Tech had six two-game losing streaks last season but managed to stave off the third consecutive loss each time, wins that included VCU on the road and home wins over Florida State and Indiana in the NIT.
Through last season, only two power-conference coaches could claim that they had made it through the past eight seasons without a three-game losing streak. Pastner was one. The other was Kentucky coach John Calipari. The streak, now over with losses to Grambling State, Tennessee and Wofford, was a small point of pride for Pastner.
“It wasn’t in my thought process, to be honest with you,” Pastner said. “I was thinking about it. For one reason, we’ve got bigger stuff to correct.”