Georgia Tech’s loss to Wofford an extreme statistical outlier

Dec 07, 2017
Mark Olencki/Wofford College
Wofford guard Fletcher Magee shoots over Georgia Tech guard Curtis Haywood late in the Terriers' 63-60 win over the Yellow Jackets Wednesday night in Spartanburg, S.C.

Wofford did the seemingly impossible Wednesday night in defeating Georgia Tech.

In their 63-60 upset win in Spartanburg, S.C., the Terriers shot 35.6 percent from the field. The Yellow Jackets shot 57.1 percent from the field, the highest rate in coach Josh Pastner’s 44-game tenure.

From the start of the 2010-11 season through Tuesday’s games, there had been 838 Division I games in which one team shot 57.1 percent or better and the other shot 35.6 percent or lower.

The team with the higher shooting percentage was 838-0, according to sports-reference.com, whose game data goes back to the 2010-11 season.

5 observations from Georgia Tech’s loss to Wofford

That Tech could trip up where 838 consecutive teams had not doesn’t quite rise to the level of the many other calamities that have befallen the Jackets this season (some of their own doing). But it is consistent with the way this season has begun. On the same night, Pastner lost a third consecutive game for the first time in his career as a head coach and just the second time overall going back to his playing career at Arizona.

“We’ve had a wild two months,” Pastner said.

How did it happen?

The percentages don’t account for the difference in the volume of shots or their value. Because Wofford turned the ball over six times to Tech’s 16 and was able to capture 12 of its misses to extend possessions, while Tech had only four offensive rebounds (in part because the Jackets missed far fewer shots), the Terriers put up 17 more shots than the Jackets.

In 60 possessions, Wofford took 59 shots, making 21. In 59 possessions, Tech attempted 42 field goals, making 24. The Jackets got to the line eight times, making seven free throws. Wofford was 9 for 13 from the line. 

“We were more efficient (Wednesday) because we took better shots,” Pastner said.

The other factor was what makes field-goal percentage sometimes a misleading statistic. While Wofford overall shot 35.6 percent from the field, the Terriers shot 31 percent from inside the 3-point arc (9 for 29) but 40 percent (12 for 30) outside of it.

Tech was reasonably effective with the 3-point shot at 5 for 13, but it didn’t compare with Wofford’s performance. The Jackets scored 53 points with their 24 field goals while the Terriers, taking more shots and using a higher proportion on 3-pointers, scored 54 points on their 21 baskets.

In fairness, in just about every game in the 838-game set, the winning team shot even better than Tech did and held its opponent to a field-goal percentage lower than Wofford’s rate. Still, even lowering the parameters slightly illustrates the stunning unlikelihood of Tech losing in this matter.

In the same timeframe, teams that shot 55 percent or better and held their opponent to 38 percent shooting from the field were 2089-9 before Wednesday. In that data set, Wofford overcame 232-to-1 odds to beat the Jackets. For Tech’s season thus far, that sounds about right.