Georgia Tech won its third game in a row Wednesday night, thwarting an undermanned Notre Dame 60-53 at McCamish Pavilion.
Tech (9-7, 2-1 ACC) dominated two stretches of play in the first and second halves to hold off Notre Dame (13-4, 3-1), which entered the game ranked No. 25 in the coaches poll.
Here are five observations from the game:
How the game was won
In two spurts, the Jackets played textbook offense to couple with their stout work at the other end. They went on a 13-0 run in the first half, stringing together baskets – a putback dunk by Abdoulaye Gueye, center Ben Lammers finding guard Tadric Jackson on a backdoor cut, Jackson returning the favor with a backdoor alley-oop to Lammers – to push the lead to 30-18 with 1:45 left in the half.
In the second half, Notre Dame nudged back into the game in ungainly fashion, even taking a 38-37 lead. With the score 42-41 in Tech’s favor, the Jackets assembled a 10-2 run for a 52-43 lead with possessions of good ball movement and effective transition play.
Those two runs lasted a combined 12 possessions (out of 66 for the game) and took about six minutes. Tech scored 23 of its 60 points (38 percent) in them.
In the other 34 minutes of play, Notre Dame outscored Tech 51-37.
“We gave ourselves a chance, but Tech made big plays at key times to hold us off,” Notre Dame coach Mike Brey said.
Okogie continues to shine
Guard Josh Okogie continued his superior play. His final numbers: 17 points on 6-for-13 shooting, four rebounds, five assists, no turnovers, two blocks and one steal. Okogie has scored in double figures in all eight games he has played and is averaging 19.6 points per game. His five assists tied his career high.
He made the last big shot of the game, a hanger with 2:05 left in the game to increase Tech’s lead to 58-53, although he missed jump shots on the next two possessions to keep Notre Dame in the game. He made two free throws with 19.5 seconds left for the final 60-53 score to seal the outcome.
He also made two of the highlight plays of the game, both in the first half. He chased down Notre Dame guard Rex Pflueger on the fast break and timed his leap to block his layup attempt at the rim and later scored on a reverse layup in transition off a feed from Jackson, spinning the ball off the glass.
Fighting Irish shortcomings laid bare
Earlier this season, in moments of lament while Okogie was not available, Pastner made mention of how advanced metrics suggested that Tech would have won most or all of the games that Tech played without him. Let it be said, then, that the Irish might well have mopped the floor with the Jackets on Wednesday night had forward Bonzie Colson and guard Matt Farrell, who are averaging a combined 37 points per game but are out with injuries, been available.
From the start of the 2013-14 season, when Notre Dame joined the ACC, through Jan. 5, the Irish scored 55 or fewer points in six of their 157 games. The Irish now have gone back-to-back games under 55.
“I’m proud of our group,” Brey said. “We keep digging and scratching, even though we’re a little shorthanded.”
Who doesn’t feeling sorry for Notre Dame? That would be Tech players and coaches, who are finally healthy after two months of infirmity.
“It’s a nice change of pace,” said Lammers, whose agility has returned after an ankle sprain in early November.
Lammers, Jackson hold down defensive glass
Lammers played an important role in keeping Notre Dame off the offensive glass. In their 51-49 win over Syracuse on Saturday, the Irish compensated for atrocious shooting by pounding the glass, collecting 21 offensive rebounds to Syracuse’s 19 defensive rebounds for 16 second-chance points.
Lammers positioned himself well and used his length for eight defensive rebounds, helping limit Notre Dame to nine offensive rebounds compared to Tech’s 29 defensive rebounds. The Irish scored 10 second-chance points. They had scored 16 in their win over Tech on Dec. 30 in South Bend, Ind.
Keeping Notre Dame from winning offensive rebounds “was basically our entire game plan,” Lammers said.
“We couldn’t second shots like we’d been getting in our first three ACC games,” Brey said.
Lammers continued to struggle with his jump shot, making 1 of 5 shots away from the basket, according to the short chart. But he was active on defense, blocking two shots, altering more and deflecting several balls. He scored on a post move late in a key possession.
“I thought his activity with his hands was terrific,” Pastner said.
Jackson had a similarly rough shooting night, making five of 14 shots from the field, but he was likewise critical in coming up with nine rebounds, eight on the defensive glass. The nine rebounds tied his career high.
Looking at the bigger picture
It wasn’t so long ago that the Jackets looked like a lost cause, with non-conference losses to Grambling State, Wofford and Wright State. Their win over Notre Dame was not the most breathtaking, but it was their third in a row following wins over then-No. 15 Miami and Yale.
It’s hard to know how to weight a defeat over such a depleted opponent, but the Jackets were at least able to beat a team that Syracuse could not.
“We found a way,” Pastner said. “We gutted it out.”
Their RPI, which not so long ago was an astronomic 249, is now down to 160, according to Warren Nolan.com, still shudder-inspiring but a hefty jump.
“They’re so much different than the team we played 10 days ago,” Brey said. “They’re healthy, they’re moving better.”
The team still has holes, notably its defense against the dribble drive and its offensive efficiency in general. As of Wednesday night, Tech ranked 274th nationally in 3-point field-goal percentage (32.6 percent) and 266th in two-point field-goal percentage (46.9 percent), according to KenPom.
But, the defense has begun to increasingly resemble its form of last year, when it was the backbone of the Jackets’ success. Tech is getting to the line frequently and making its free throws. Lammers said that the team is gelling more quickly than last season’s did.
“Because I think everyone’s starting to realize their roles and what they need to do for our team to be successful,” he said. “Everyone knows if you’re a shooter, you shoot. If you’re a driver, you drive.”
The Jackets have perhaps their most winnable ACC road game coming up, Saturday against Pittsburgh.