With a buzzer-beating layup that called to mind Josh Okogie’s game-winner against Notre Dame last season, Georgia Tech guard Tadric Jackson gave the Yellow Jackets a thrilling 52-51 win over Northwestern Tuesday night at McCamish Pavilion. The win gave coach Josh Pastner, whose frizzy hair was honored with the distribution of several hundred wigs to Tech students, his first ACC/Big Ten Challenge win.
“The Thrillerdome continues to live on,” Pastner said.
Tech improved to 4-1 while Northwestern dropped to 4-3.
Five observations from the game
1. The first option for guard Jose Alvarado as he dribbled upcourt on the final play was to find center Ben Lammers, who had inbounded to Alvarado with 7.1 seconds remaining and was trailing on the play to Alvarado’s right. However, Northwestern guard Jordan Ash denied the pass, so Alvarado looked to the left wing, where Jackson and guard Brandon Alston were practically next to each other. In fact, as Alvarado passed to Jackson, Alston opened his hands as though he thought the pass were coming to him.
Catching the ball with just under three seconds to play, Jackson took two dribbles with his right hand to the basket and went up for a layup with his left (he’s a lefty) against Dererk Pardon’s challenge, laying it in off the glass as time expired.
“I saw the open lane and took it,” Jackson said.
Jackson said he took a quick look at the clock before deciding to go to the basket.
“Northwestern guarded it well, but Tadric was smart not to settle and drove the ball,” Pastner said. “And that’s what he should’ve done, being a senior. That was the right mindset and it was the right pass by Jose.”
On the previous possession, Jackson committed what he called “just a careless turnover” trying to get the ball to Lammers, leaving the score at 50-49 in Tech’s favor and setting up Northwestern’s go-ahead basket on a putback by Pardon.
“You’ve got to forget about that,” Jackson said. “You can’t hold your head down.”
2. Tech coaches will have plenty of teaching points from the game, most notably from the final eight minutes, in which the Jackets turned the ball over seven times and were 0-for-3 from the field before being saved by Jackson’s buzzer-beater. Moreover, four of the turnovers were committed either by Lammers and Jackson, both seniors.
“It’s a rhythmic offense and I thought we finally, in the last eight minutes, did a good job of disrupting the rhythm,” Northwestern coach Chris Collins said. “We got in the passing lanes a little bit.”
The lapse allowed Northwestern to go on a 12-0 run that gave the Wildcats a 49-47 lead with 2:21 remaining.
“We will be able to use those last seven minutes, show film, get better because this will not be the last time we’re in a close game this season,” Pastner said. “We’ll have to do a better job executing late when we have a lead and, vice versa, if we’re down, making sure we execute.”
3. Northwestern, which reached the NCAA Tournament last season for the first time in school history, has been a little up and down thus far, shooting 26.7 percent from the field in a loss to Texas Tech a game after torching La Salle for 56.1 percent. Still, Tech’s defensive effort was commendable.
The Jackets’ zone defenses kept the Wildcats out of rhythm and, as was often the case last season for Tech opponents, Northwestern missed a number of open 3-pointers (5-for-23). Shots were challenged, and Tech did an excellent job of keeping the Wildcats off the offensive glass (nine offensive rebounds to Tech’s 28 defensive rebounds).
Tech put up good defensive numbers in wins over Bethune-Cookman, Texas-Rio Grande Valley and North Texas, but the Jackets’ performance against Northwestern provides a clearer progress report for the team that finished sixth last season nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency (kenpom).
“We really guarded well again,” Pastner said.
4. Tech handled with merit one of the longest stretches of a game without Lammers, the All-ACC center, since the start of last season. Lammers, who averaged 35.4 minutes per game last season, was called to the bench at the 11:06 mark of the first half after drawing his second foul. Pastner kept him there until 2:46 remained in the half.
Remarkably, without the player who was so essential to the team’s success last season that he played every minute of five games, Tech actually advanced the lead by one point. The Jackets were up 9-8 when Lammers left the game and ahead 22-20 when he returned.
Backup Abdoulaye Gueye acquitted himself admirably during that stretch, scoring on a short jumper and then off a post move and also passing out of a double team in the low post to forward Moses Wright as he cut down the baseline, setting him up for an and-one dunk. He also denied a dunk try at the rim for a block.
Gueye finished with five points and six rebounds in 32 minutes and looks increasingly comfortable and adept in both the high and low post.
“AD has gotten a lot better from where AD was last year to this year,” Pastner said.
5. The Jackets enjoyed a massive advantage at the free-throw line, making 16 of 20 free throws while Northwestern was 4-for-5. It’s the fewest number of free throws that the Wildcats have attempted in a game in Collins’ tenure, which began in 2013. They averaged 17.7 free throws per game last season.
“I’m not going to get into calls and that kind of stuff,” Collins said. “I thought both teams were driving the ball and getting it in there. Give them credit; they were a little bit stronger and were able to get the foul calls that they needed.”
Said Pastner, “We did a good job of defending without fouling.”