Tuesday night may be the last time that Georgia Tech’s seniors put on the Yellow Jackets uniform. The careers of Tech’s six seniors, including Quinton Stephens, Josh Heath and Corey Heyward, has dwindled down to however long they can remain alive in the NIT, which for the Jackets begins with a first-round matchup with Indiana at McCamish Pavilion.
However, even Stephens has his mind on the team’s future.
“I really want this for the younger guys more than I want it for myself,” he said. “And then guys that we’re recruiting. I want them to know that Georgia Tech is on the map and it’s a good place to come play at.”
As is often said of football bowl practice and games, Tech’s run in the NIT has value for the future. At the end of a season that has far exceeded expectations, coach Josh Pastner and the returnees on the roster have an eye on next season. Experience gained against the Hoosiers and, should Tech win, in the second round and beyond could benefit the Jackets next season.
“I think it definitely does (help),” center Ben Lammers said. “Any postseason experience is good for anyone.”
Lammers, for instance, can test himself against Indiana center Thomas Bryant, a 6-foot-10, 255-pound sophomore who can score close to the basket, run the floor and make 3-pointers.
“This game right now for me, it just gives me the kind of taste that I need moving on to next year, knowing that we kind of fell short of our goal, but it’s still going to be a great experience, just playing postseason,” guard Josh Okogie said. “That was just the biggest thing for me when I figured out we weren’t going to March Madness. I just wanted to play. Guys wanted to keep playing.”
Okogie can direct his efforts towards stopping the Hoosiers’ 3-point game. Indiana makes 38.3 percent of its 3-point attempts, second best in the Big Ten. The Hoosiers put up 22.9 3-pointers per game, more than all but two ACC teams (Notre Dame and Syracuse).
The Jackets can also take on an opponent that plays at a faster pace than most teams they see. Indiana has averaged 80.2 points per game this season, first in the Big Ten.
“They just play so fast,” Pastner said. “They play with great pace. Probably the fastest team that we’ll play all year along, and that maybe even includes (North) Carolina.”
Pastner recognizes how the experience of playing a high-profile team such as Indiana can help. But it is also his hope that the team benefits from one particular aspect of the NIT.
“I’m hoping one, the sting of not getting in the NCAA tournament sticks with them,” he said. “And I’ll remind them of that, all through the offseason.”
Pastner said, perhaps jokingly, that he will put together clips of players’ mistakes and commentators speaking critically of them and put them on a clip and “just play that over and over and over” in the weight room over the offseason.
Okogie said that he wants to work on his ballhandling and his shooting. Lammers’ goals are to improve his post game but also to extend his range to the 3-point arc, which would add a dangerous dimension to his game. Lammers is already comfortable shooting jumpers, but not quite to the arc.
That kind of work will have to wait until the offseason begins. Which the Jackets hope doesn’t start for awhile.
“We’re really excited about the NIT, and we’re trying to get to (semifinal site) Madison Square Garden,” Stephens said.