Taking a second look back at Georgia Tech's loss to Notre Dame Wednesday night in South Bend, Ind. It dropped Tech to 11-6 overall and 1-3 in the ACC. (5 observations here)
1. Tech appears to have a major problem with sending opponents to the free-throw line. In four ACC games, Tech’s opponents have taken 123 free throws, while the Jackets have taken just 69. Some of the margin can be explained away by the fact that the Jackets were on the road for the three games when Tech lost the free-throw battle and may have been feeling the effects of home-court advantage. Also, Tech had to foul at the end of each of the three losses
But that doesn’t explain everything North Carolina, Pitt, Virginia and Notre Dame shooting a combined 78 percent more free throws than the Jackets. The Jackets defended well against Virginia – although the Cavaliers missed a few open shots they might normally hit – but are having trouble defending without fouling. In the three losses, Tech has actually gone to the line more frequently in the first halves, 31 times to North Carolina, Pitt and Notre Dame’s 25. But in second halves, they’ve taken a combined 66 free throws to Tech’s 20. Yikes.
What’s worse, they’ve shot 86.4 percent (57 makes) in the second half, which has proven difference-making in wins by a combined 21 points.
Virginia took more free throws than Tech as well, 22-18. It was 16-15 in Tech’s favor in the second half of that game.
“That goes to both our defensive intensity, where we have to defend without fouling, but also on the offense, being more aggressive and drawing some fouls and us getting to the free-throw line,” coach Brian Gregory said.
2. Guard Marcus Georges-Hunt was clearly down after the game about the loss. He is one of the players I usually request to speak with following games, win or lose, and I should say that he is invariably thoughtful and honest with his answers. He handles that part of his role as a team leader remarkably well. What stuck out to me Wednesday was that, as my memory serves, he seemed more down than he typically is after a loss. He usually has a shake-it-off demeanor, but it appeared that he took this particularly hard.
“We let one get away,” he said. “I feel like we beat ourselves. We didn’t take care of business. That’s just the bottom line. We didn’t take care of business and they outplayed us.”
I’m not going to attempt to crawl too deep into his thinking, but, after the win over Virginia, he talked about using it as a springboard, saying “This win can start something special, start the journey that we’ve planned since last March.”
Wednesday’s result hardly ends the season, but to give probably the weakest performance of the four games after such an uplifting win was disappointing and decidedly not the second step of the journey he had in mind. Obviously, Notre Dame had a hand in the game and was playing at home and trying to avoid going 1-3 in the ACC, so it’s not like Tech didn’t face a considerable task Wednesday night. And the slow start, particularly from 3-point range, put Tech in a hole. The Jackets made just two of their first 17 field-goal attempts (some of them probably not the best shots, some of them just misses of open looks) and missed their first six 3-point tries.
Tech finished 5-for-19. Notre Dame was actually 2-for-15. Overall, I don’t think Tech took bad 3-point tries; they just didn’t go in. In the Virginia game, Tech was 8-for-15 and Virginia was 4-for-18. The result may well have been different had both teams shot closer to their season averages.
“You’re going to have nights like that, so you have to find something else to get things going,” Georges-Hunt said. He was 0-for-3 from 3-point range.
But, anyway, back to Georges-Hunt. It was an opportunity lost, once again. The Jackets could have earned their first ACC road win, over the defending league champions, evened their conference record at 2-2 and put themselves in position to even go above .500 against Virginia Tech Saturday. For Tech’s NCAA aspirations, this would have been a good pickup. The Jackets need every win they can get, and this was clearly a winnable game. There’s still 14 games left, but each one is precious.
The road won’t get much easier Saturday. Virginia Tech figured to be one of the most winnable games on the schedule, but the Hokies, picked to finish 14th in the league, look better than expected. They beat Wake Forest Wednesday night to improve to 3-1 and also have wins over Virginia and N.C. State. You’d think Virginia Tech will have a little more in their tank facing Adam Smith, who played two seasons there before leaving as a graduate transfer last spring.
I think it’s a little early for must wins, but it would be a considerable setback to drop another one Saturday.
3. Notre Dame forward Zach Auguste killed Tech with slips and screen and rolls to the basket. He scored a season-high 24 taking just 13 shots. Of his 10 baskets, I’d imagine six or seven were uncontested layups on rolls to the basket or scores in transition.
“The one thing they did, they played with a stretch 4 a lot and so now they stretched the court on that (ball screen), but you’ve still got to get some weakside help on that,” Gregory said. “You’ve got to trust the defense. Our activity on the ball and our activity on the ball screen wasn’t where it needed to be.”
Auguste, working in tandem Notre Dame guard Demetrius Jackson (eight assists), was the difference in the second half, when he scored 15 points on 6-for-7 shooting.
Forward Nick Jacobs said that Tech had practiced defending the ball screen but just didn’t do it Wednesday night.
Said Jacobs, “It came down to the defensive end and we all just didn’t defend today. We paid for it.”
“They made a lot of hustle plays and they did a great job on the ball screen and we did a bad job guarding it. Extra possessions off of second chances. Rebounding. I would think that was it.” – Georges-Hunt on the difference in the game Wednesday
“We didn’t play very well and give them credit. They were more aggressive on their drives, they were more aggressive in the post and more aggressive in terms of attacking the basket and we didn’t respond to that the way that we need to respond, especially on the road. We thought we got some quality looks at the basket, didn’t shoot the ball very well, (but) only down three at halftime with that. It’s an area that we need to address because when we get those shots around the basket, we need to finish those.” – Gregory
“They are much different offensively than they were last year. I was very pleased at how we defended tonight. We really helped in the post and they are one of the teams that really throws it into the post.
Statistic to note
Notre Dame’s 32 free throws were seven more than its previous season high. For good measure, its 87.5 percent effort from the line was also its season best. The Irish were shooting 68.0 percent going into the game, which, had they shot that, would have been good for 22 points instead of 28.
A look at four critical statistical categories from the game. More information here.
eFG% -- effective field goal percentage (field-goal percentage that incorporates value of 3-pointers)
TOV% - turnover percentage (turnovers/possession)
OReb% - offensive rebounding percentage (offensive rebounds/all available rebounds)
FT – free throws/field goal attempts
Notre Dame’s free-throw rate was the highest against Tech thus far in ACC play by about nine percentage points, and it was compounded, as noted earlier, by how accurate Notre Dame was at the line. Tech’s offensive rebound rate was its second best, just behind its effort against Pittsburgh, but the problem was that the Jackets weren’t turning the extra possessions into much. Gregory noted that, particularly in the first half, Tech’s big men had plays where they probably would have been better served kicking the ball out rather than going back up with the offensive rebound.
It should be noted that Tech’s turnover percentage against Notre Dame was phenomenal (as was Notre Dame’s) and something Gregory and the team deserve credit for addressing. The No. 1 team turnover percentage team in the country is Davidson at 12.8 percent, according to teamrankings.com. Tech is No. 10 at 14.2 percent. The Jackets were No. 197 last year at 19.0 percent.
At the game
I was on the first row of media tables behind one of the baselines. Seated closer to the sideline on the same row was former Notre Dame coach Digger Phelps, who signed a basketball for a longtime season-ticket holder honored as the “fan of the game.” He was introduced during one of the media timeouts, if memory serves. No one pays attention to it, but it’s a pretty easy way to thank/stroke the ego of what I presume is a hefty donor. (hefty in terms of his financial giving, I should say.)