A season that seems to worsen at each turn took another dip Friday. Georgia Tech lost 85-81 to Wright State at McCamish Pavilion, allowing the Raiders to post season highs for points and field-goal percentage (51.8 percent) against Division I competition.
Three days after bowing to Georgia with a listless second-half defensive effort, the Jackets repeated the performance. This time, however, it was not to a rival but a team that Tech paid $90,000 for the privilege of coming to McCamish, ostensibly to lose.
Five observations from the game
Still trying to find his game
Center Ben Lammers was off of his form again Friday night, having trouble defending Wright State freshman center Loudon Love (who was 7-for-9 from the field for 16 points) and scoring 10 points on 5-for-11 shooting. He had 10 rebounds, though he had none in the first half. An uncharacteristically ill-advised pass led directly to a Wright State transition basket.
“It’s going to be a long year for us if Ben doesn’t play as a first-team All-ACC (player), bottom line,” coach Josh Pastner said.
Lammers’ season has been thrown off by his sprained ankle in the second game of the season, which kept him out of practice for about four weeks. Lammers has only returned to practice in the last week, and Pastner revealed that he is still not allowed to run sprints or other conditioning drills to protect his ankle. Concluding that Lammers needed more practice time to recover his rhythm, Pastner practiced the team twice Wednesday and Thursday, during which Lammers performed well, Pastner said.
However, that version failed to emerge Friday. Wright State players successfully went at the reigning ACC defensive player of the year, and he had his shot blocked twice.
Tech was absolutely gutted in the second half by a team that had no business doing so. Wright State scored an absurd 54 points in 41 second-half possessions, shooting 66.7 percent from the field, including 6-for-9 from 3-point range. The Raiders finished the game 9-for-20 from 3-point range. Wright State came into the game shooting 30.8 percent from 3-point range.
Wright State coach Scott Nagy conceded he hadn’t planned on attacking the Jackets from 3-point range – which has been a weak spot for Tech – “because we don’t shoot a lot of 3’s and we’ve been awful, honestly. This team has struggled.”
The game followed the same pattern as Tech’s loss to Georgia, as well as Wofford and Grambling State, when the Jackets either allowed second-half comebacks or permitted opponents to sneak away with lax defense.
“They just played way harder than us,” guard Jose Alvarado said.
Tech was out of sorts. Forward Moses Wright turned the ball over when he stepped over the baseline trying to inbound the ball. After missing a jump shot, guard Josh Okogie didn’t pay attention as he ran back on defense and allowed a Wright State guard to dribble right past him in transition and score. Lammers allowed a transition putback after a Wright State player beat him to the rim after a Raiders miss. The defense – in 3-point range and in the lane – was egregious.
“We fell asleep on penetration,” Pastner said.
To put Wright State’s 54 second-half points into context, it’s four more points than the Raiders scored in all 40 minutes of their previous game, a 66-50 loss at Missouri State on Tuesday.
Another good showing from Alvarado
Alvarado was a bright spot, scoring a game-high 23 points on 7-for-14 shooting with an 8-for-10 game from the line. Alvarado played at a fast pace, pushing the ball in transition and darting to the basket by splitting double teams. He seemed at times late in the game to be trying to will the Jackets to win.
Okogie contributed 21 points on 7-for-12 shooting and did work on the glass, picking up seven rebounds. However, the two combined for eight turnovers and both had defensive lapses.
“I promise you we’re going to be fine,” Alvarado said.
Okogie was similarly optimistic that the Jackets can find themselves after a disastrous 11-game start.
“Sometimes stories may have ugly beginnings but happy endings, and that’s what this is going to be,” Okogie said.
Another mid-major celebrates win over Tech
As was the case for Grambling State and Wofford, Wright State gained a defining victory at the expense of the Jackets.
“We’ve been here (in Atlanta) since Wednesday, and everybody I run into down here is, like, Wright State? Where’s Wright State?” Nagy said. “That’s the thing that I think we’re fighting. We just don’t have that identity yet.”
Wright State is in Dayton, Ohio, and is a member of the Horizon League. Before Friday, the Raiders were 1-30 against teams from the five power conferences, according to the Dayton Daily News.
“It’s important for us, no question about it,” Nagy said.
Pastner still believes in his team
The last time Tech was under .500 after 11 games was in the 1981-82 season, coach Bobby Cremins’ first, and that was against a decidedly more difficult schedule.
Invariably optimistic, Pastner found at least one positive in being 5-6 after 11 games. The Jackets have severely reduced expectations going into ACC play and will probably be able to catch teams by surprise. However, Pastner acknowledged he didn’t see this coming. Tech was ranked 249th in RPI after the game, the only power-conference team not in the top 200. Prior to Tech’s slew of injuries and suspensions, Pastner said after the game that he thought the team would be 9-2 at worst at this point.
“I just thought we were going to come in and roll this year,” he said. “I really believed we were. And can we still do it? I believe so, but we’re a wounded animal right now. We’re wounded, and I say that mentally and physically. So we’re going to have to find a way to get it done.”