On legs freshened by rest and supported by a student section allowed entry by a curly-haired benefactor, Georgia Tech kept its season alive with a first-round NIT win over Indiana. The Yellow Jackets relied on defensive effort and a better-than-usual offensive game to take care of the Hoosiers by a 75-63 count Tuesday night at McCamish Pavilion.
A week after losing to Pitt in the first round of the ACC Tournament in a game in which the Jackets seemed to run out of gas, Tech was quick in the transition game and active on defense. Tech sped out to a 13-point lead early in the first half and then began to seize the game midway through the second half with a 7-0 run charged by defensive play.
“I thought our defense was really good,” coach Josh Pastner said. “Obviously, it hasn’t been like that all year in terms of our offense, but we shot the ball well. That makes a big difference for us to get to 75 (points). That makes a big difference for us.”
Tech (18-15) was led by guard Josh Okogie (24 points, seven rebounds, four assists), guard Tadric Jackson (19 points off the bench, three assists, three steals) and forward Quinton Stephens (16 points, 4-for-7 3-point shooting). Indiana (18-16) finishes its season with eight losses in its final 11 games.
Tech will play its second-round matchup against either Belmont or Georgia. The two teams meet in a first-round matchup Wednesday night in Athens. If Belmont wins, the game will be at McCamish, probably on Monday or Tuesday. If Georgia wins, the game will be in Athens and it’s less clear when the game could be played.
When the game was won
Two Indiana free throws cut Tech’s lead to 49-48 with 10:42 to play. Center Ben Lammers answered with a basket. A steal by Stephens turned into a layup with an and-one foul by Okogie for three more points. Jackson stole the ball on the next possession and passed ahead to Okogie for a dunk in transition. After Indiana answered with a basket to bring the lead back to 56-50 and Tech went empty on the next possession, Jackson picked up another steal and then was fouled when he went to the basket in transition. His two free throws pushed the lead to 58-50 with 8:33 remaining. Indiana was never closer than five the rest of the way.
“(Jackson) had a really good game (Tuesday), but it was through his defense,” Pastner said. “He got deflections.”
Ready to run
After the tournament loss to Pittsburgh last Tuesday, Pastner gave the team Wednesday and Thursday off. It was the first time that the team had had consecutive days off since the holiday break. The Jackets looked rejuvenated.
“I thought our practice (Monday) and our shootaround (Tuesday) were excellent,” Pastner said. “Our energy was excellent and it translated into the game (Tuesday).”
The team was active on defense. Pastner said the Jackets had nine deflections by halftime.
“We’re constantly talking about hands and deflections,” he said. “That’s a big emphasis for us, and part of those deflections led us to offensive points.”
Tech was hotter on offense than it had been in awhile. The Jackets made 54 percent of their two-point field-goal attempts (season average: 47 percent), 37 percent of their 3-point tries and turned the ball over nine times. This season, the Jackets had had one game this season in which they were better than 50 percent on two-point field-goal attempts, 35 percent behind the 3-point arc and turned the ball over 10 times or fewer, according to sports-reference.com. That was against Wofford in December.
Pastner applauded the team for the explosiveness of its cuts to the basket and recognized it was just a good night shooting the ball, which hasn’t always happened. Tech was the least efficient offensive team in the ACC this season by far, in large part because of a lack of shooters.
“We made some 3’s that we usually haven’t hit,” Pastner said. “They missed some 3’s that they usually make.”
Another solid defensive effort
Tech’s defensive play chilled another highly-ranked offense. Indiana came into the game ranked No. 27 in offensive efficiency (KenPom) and was held well below its season averages. The Hoosiers shot 37.9 percent from the field (season average: 48.2 percent). The Hoosiers’ 63 points tied for their sixth lowest output of the season, which was 17 points below their season average.
The Jackets mixed defenses, often going to their 1-3-1 look, and relied on center Ben Lammers to block and alter shots. The ACC’s defensive player of the year blocked five shots and challenged more in the lane. Indiana was 17-for-37 (45.9 percent) on two-point field-goal attempts, about nine percentage points below their season average.
“Brian Gregory was always extremely high on him, but you’ve got to move him,” said Crean, a close friend of Gregory’s. “The guy doesn’t have the lateral (quickness). We didn’t face him and attack him and drive at him. A couple times we did, but then we didn’t get around him, and he’s longer than he looks.”
With Pastner offering to pay for students’ tickets to the game (since the game was under NIT control, students could not get in for free, as is normally the case), more than 1,100 students were in attendance, about 20 percent of the 5,533 in attendance. It was the largest student attendance of the season. Student tickets were $4, meaning Pastner will be billed about $4,400.
The student section was spirited and loud, serenading Indiana guard James Blackmon with “airball” chants and drumming on the metal bleachers to raise the din and urge defensive stops.
Stephens said he could barely hear his teammates due to the noise.
“Money well spent,” Pastner said. “They were awesome, gave us a great lift.”
Pastner said he would pay students’ way again if Tech plays another home game.