Reviewing Georgia Tech's 78-77 loss to Virginia Tech Saturday at McCamish Pavilion. (5 observations here.)
1. I’m not sure what the word is to describe the disparity in fouls called in the second halves of Tech’s four losses, but I might start at unfathomable.
After Saturday, Tech had 29 combined free throws in the four losses to North Carolina, Pittsburgh, Notre Dame and Virginia Tech. Those four teams had a combined 93.
The strange part about that is that, in the first halves of those games, the Yellow Jackets have a 38-34 advantage. So not only has the advantage shifted, but Tech’s number of free throws decreased in the second half from the first half by 24 percent, but its opponents’ free throw opportunities have increased 174 percent in the second half.
The kicker is that those teams have shot 86 percent (80 for 93) and Tech has shot 51.7 percent (15 for 29). The nation’s most accurate free-throw shooting team, Pittsburgh, makes 78.3 percent of its attempts.
I do think Tech has trouble drawing fouls. Forward Charles Mitchell, for instance, favors a hook shot in the post, a shot that will typically not draw contact. Guards Josh Heath and Adam Smith have a tough time going strong enough to the rim to get calls to go their way. That explains some of it.
And I’d have to think that, to some degree, Tech isn’t defending well enough in the second half. Hokies coach Buzz Williams said that, during TV timeouts in the second half, he kept urging his team to get into the bonus and get to the line.
All that said, I’m not sure that explains 93-29.
2. I wrote in the 5 observations that the defeat ranked among the more disheartening defeats of coach Brian Gregory’s tenure, possibly the most. I’d put a few up for comparison. The 52-51 loss to Louisville last season in which Tech led by 13 with nine minutes to play and turned the ball over six times in the final 9:07. Also last season, the 81-80 overtime loss to N.C. State. In overtime, Quinton Stephens had two free throws with 4.7 seconds left that, had he made them, would have put the Jackets up by four, but he missed both and Trevor Lacey hit the game-winning 3-pointer at the buzzer.
In Jan. 2014, Tech lost 80-78 to N.C. State in overtime in Raleigh, N.C., a game in which the Jackets led by 11 with 15 minutes to play and five with 2:28 left in regulation, but missed three shots and turned the ball over twice to send the game to overtime and defeat.
In Jan. 2013, Tech was up 56-61 with the ball and two minutes to play against Virginia Tech at home, but lost in overtime 70-65.
Guard Marcus Georges-Hunt summed it up: “Very stunned.”
3. Tech’s turnover percentage was 16.7 (13 turnovers in 78 possessions). It’s not bad, but the Jackets haven’t been as strong and smart with the ball as they had been earlier this season. Tech is still No. 10 in the country in turnover percentage at 14.2 percent. (The Jackets had been in single digits in turnovers in six of the previous seven games.) The difference between Tech’s total Saturday and staying at its season percentage is only two turnovers out of 78 possessions, but, obviously, the Jackets could have very much used two more possessions against the Hokies.
Forward Charles Mitchell’s two giveaways in the backcourt (two passes that were almost directly to Virginia Tech players) with about four minutes to go were hardly the only reasons the Jackets lost, but they were as significant as they were inexplicable.
Gregory said guard Josh Heath should have come back to Mitchell after the rebound prior to the first turnover, but that Mitchell should have been more careful with the ball regardless. He called the second turnover (off an inbounds pass) “just being sloppy.”
There were other uncharacteristic turnovers in the game, including a number of travels.
Heath himself had two turnovers in a three-possession sequence after Mitchell’s turnovers. He had had three turnovers total in Tech’s first four ACC games.
“You just can’t do that, not in this league,” Gregory said. “You can’t give life to a team like that. And that’s exactly what we did.”
Stat to note
Virginia Tech led for eight seconds of the entire game. Georgia Tech led for 37:37. It was tied for 2:15.
“We couldn’t guard him. We couldn’t stop him. I think he made one three entering today in ACC play, made two today, and all the action that they run to get him turning downhill, we couldn’t do anything with him. He is really good.” – Williams on Georges-Hunt, who scored a career-high 27 points
“That’s one of the dilemmas we’re in. We need other guys to become a little more consistent and to understand their role and to do that role.” – Gregory on a lack of consistent scorers past Georges-Hunt, Mitchell and Adam Smith
“I don’t know what’s going through guys’ heads, but you could just see it – kind of loose with the ball, missing easy layups. That’s all on us. The coaches can’t do it for us. We’re the ones out there playing. We can’t blame it on anybody but ourselves.” – Georges-Hunt
(To provide clarity, his statement that “I don’t know what’s going through guys’ heads” was communicating that he couldn’t speak for other players and their thinking, not expressing frustration for a lack of focus.)
A look at four critical statistical categories from the game. More information here.
As might be expected in a one-point decision, the two Techs split the four factors. Virginia Tech did a much better job keeping Georgia Tech off the offensive glass in the second half with just three offensive rebounds on 19 available opportunities after taking seven of 17 in the first half. The Jackets figured to have a strong advantage there – offensive rebounding is what they do better than just about anyone, and the Hokies are not a very good rebounding team – but Georgia Tech only had two second-chance points in the second half after picking up nine in the first half.
The Hokies’ free-throw rate was a new high for a Tech opponent in ACC play, bettering the 59.2 percent put up by Notre Dame.
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
At the game
The annual letterman’s game followed the actual game. Among those in attendance: Kenny Anderson, Bobby Cremins, Ismail Muhammad and Roger Kaiser. Malcolm Mackey and Dennis Scott showed up after the game.
The thought occurred that it was the second time in three months that Georgia Tech has played Virginia Tech at home in a game in which it had distinguished former team members in attendance and seemed on the verge of winning before losing the game with unforced errors, the first instance being, of course, the football team’s 23-21 defeat last November. Something similar happened in 2013 for the 100th anniversary celebration of Grant Field, another loss to the Hokies.
Should Georgia Tech celebrate the 100th anniversary of the 222-0 game against Cumberland this fall (the anniversary is Oct. 7), there are two things that should preclude a repeat. First, the Jackets play Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Va. Second, I’m guessing there's not much chance that any participants from that game would be able to attend.