Reviewing Georgia Tech's 71-65 win over Syracuse Sunday night at McCamish Pavilion. Also, the "5 things" story , Jeff Schultz's column from the game and post-game quotes from coaches Josh Pastner and Jim Boeheim.
The most significant number is Syracuse’s effective field-goal rate. It was Tech’s fourth lowest in ACC play and well below Syracuse’s ACC average of 53.8. The Orange were atrocious from 3-point range (8-for-30), which has come to be par for the course. A near constant after Tech games is opposing coaches saying what Jim Boeheim did, that “we got some pretty good looks and didn’t make them.” In ACC play, Tech opponents are shooting 33.2 percent from 3-point range, the third-lowest rate in the league.
That was probably as well as Tech has played since the Notre Dame game, which was six games ago. I thought this would be a telling game because, first, Syracuse is a considerable opponent, but also because the injury/illness bug that ran through the team appears to have completed its course. Since the Notre Dame game, Tech lost at Clemson and Wake Forest in games in which guard Josh Heath and others were waylaid by some sort of virus or bug, played well against Tusculum (though it’s hard to judge based on competition), played a remarkably bad offensive half against Boston College, then was O.K. but not great at Miami, in no small part because of injuries to Ben Lammers, Quinton Stephens and Josh Okogie that kept them out of practice.
So this game was something of a truth teller – was the 1-3 record since Notre Dame truly an indication of what sickness, injury and the road had done to the Jackets, or was their play slipping overall? After a shaky start offensively, Tech played really well. The defense was sharp aside from a spurt late in the first half, limiting Syracuse to 35.7 percent shooting from the field. Offensively, the Jackets were patient against a challenging defense and got solid efforts from Stephens (career-high eight assists), Heath (seven points, five assists and six rebounds, Okogie (six rebounds, three offensive, and 13 points) and Lammers (23 points, seven rebounds, seven blocks, three steals).
“I was bouncy,” Stephens said. “I was ready. I can’t get more jacked up than having a sellout crowd, playing against Syracuse, playing with my teammates. That energy’s contagious. We appreciate all the support.”
One thing that caught my attention was that, at least twice, Tech beat Syracuse down the floor after the Orange had made a basket to either score a basket in transition or get fouled. It said a bit about the Jackets’ energy level Sunday.
At this point, given the form the Jackets showed Sunday, it would seem like finishing at 9-9 in the league (2-2 in the final four games) would seem like the most probable outcome. That’s the projection of metrics website KenPom. That puts Tech at 18-13 (not counting the Tusculum game) and on the tournament bubble.
Stat of the game
Lammers’ seven blocks was the most any player has had against Syracuse since Feb. 2009 and one shy of its school record for most blocks by an opponent. (Interestingly, former Tech center Daniel Miller had six in the Jackets’ 67-62 win over the Orange, then ranked seventh, at the Carrier Dome in March 2014.)
A few more points of context. Syracuse entered the game 26th nationally in opponent block percentage, at 4.4 percent. Lammers personally blocked 10 percent of the Orange’s field-goal attempts. And what’s more, 30 of those attempts were 3-point tries, so he blocked one out of about every six Syracuse shots attempted inside the 3-point arc, and likely altered several more. That’s a game-changing performance.
Syracuse shot 35.7 percent from the field, its second-lowest rate against an ACC opponent this season and under its ACC average by almost 11 percentage points.
“He’s a really good player,” Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said. “He’s a defensive player, shot blocker, rebounder. And he can score. He’s a really good player.”
And he played 40 minutes, for the third time this season, as did Stephens, also for the third time. They became the first Tech players to play the full 40 three times in a season since Matt Harpring did it five times in 1996-97.
“You come into a huddle, you’re like, you know what? I haven’t come out yet, but this timeout is nice,” Stephens said.
I’ve mentioned it before, but Lammers is doing minutes-wise is pretty unusual. The NCAA ranks the top 250 players for average minutes played, and Lammers, who through Saturday’s games was tied for 100th at 34:30, is the only center out of the group. He is one of three players 6-foot-10.
Stat of the game, second place: Tech is now 13-0 when it scores 70 or more points.
Quote of the game
“It’s not me, it is our players. What they have done, how they have bonded, it’s all about team. Team, team, team, and that’s a credit to them, and you don’t take those things for granted. Really, really special to be in this position we’re in right now.” – Pastner
Guard Tadric Jackson was a standout in transition, scoring 20 on 8-for-15 shooting. It perhaps stands to reason, but Tech is 5-0 when he scores 20 or more. He might be as much of an X-factor as this team has. He can be such an asset when he’s on his game – he sees and makes passes that not all of his teammates do (or at least are willing to attempt) and can be a superior finisher.
Jackson, of course, drew the influential illegal screen call on Tyler Roberson with 16 seconds left that cost Syracuse a possession that could have enabled the Orange to either tie the game or take the lead.
“I mean, I thought I set the screen like I set any other one,” Roberson told the Syracuse Post-Standard. “It seemed like the defender moved, maybe flopped. And I think he called the foul from that. I was actually really surprised. If anything, I really tried not to move and they called it.”
Stephens didn’t have a great shooting game (2-for-7, six points) but contributed on the glass with six rebounds.
“We have a goal in mind, so I don’t think anyone’s holding anything back at this point,” he said. “Especially me – this is my last go-round.”
From my iPhone
Lethal Weapon 3, stars of Tech's first Final Four run in 1990, signed autographs and was honored during the first half of the game. Judging from their smiles and the way they interacted with fans, I'd say they were pretty happy to be back. From left to right, that's Dennis Scott, Brian Oliver and Kenny Anderson. At halftime, Oliver made a halfcourt shot to win a fan pizza for a year. Pretty fun night.
On a personal note
My friend and colleague Jeff Schultz was at the game and wrote a column worth the read. As is customary for a night game in particular, we were writing throughout the second half to file stories at the final buzzer (or shortly thereafter). After got up by 13 midway through the second half, we were both working on stories assuming Tech was going to win.
When the lead got down to 67-65 with 56 seconds left, I turned to Jeff and asked, “Are you as screwed as I am if they lose?”
He agreed that he would be and mentioned something about the Super Bowl. Selfishly, I was quite appreciative Tech was able to preserve the victory.