It was before the sixth game of the year. Georgia Tech had just beaten Northwestern on a last-second layup by guard Tadric Jackson, was 4-1 and playing solid defense. The Yellow Jackets looked like they might be able to ride out guard Josh Okogie’s six-game NCAA suspension and finger injury.
At that time, coach Josh Pastner made a lineup change, one he now said he regrets.
To that point, Pastner had played Jackson in the sixth-man role he had played last season so well that he finished second in sixth man of the year balloting in the ACC. He played effectively against Northwestern, with 10 points, seven rebounds and four assists.
But Pastner, speaking Sunday prior to the team’s departure for Brooklyn and the ACC Tournament, said he had told Jackson that he would start him against Grambling State, so he went ahead and made the change.
Pastner’s standard practice is to not mess with a lineup that’s working, but, because he had given Jackson his word, he put him in the starting five, taking out guard Brandon Alston. Tech lost 64-63 to the Tigers, one of the worst losses in team history (although Grambling State’s season would ultimately somewhat soften the blow).
Pastner said he should have stuck with the same lineup, “because we were in a groove and I’ve never done that before. When things are moving right, I just leave it alone.”
At least statistically speaking, Jackson wasn’t a disaster. He was 8-for-18 from the field, although he was 0-for-5 from 3-point range and 3-for-8 from the free-throw line, for 19 points. He also had three turnovers, but did have seven rebounds. Pastner recalled him as being “awful.”
But the Jackets lost, playing sloppily on offense (13 turnovers, 11-for-22 from the free-throw line) and giving up 6-for-14 shooting from 3-point range in a sign of things to come.
Tech then lost to Tennessee and Wofford for Pastner’s first three-game losing streak in his head-coaching career, setting the stage for a disappointing season. Pastner said that Jackson may well have won a spot in the starting five, but, the Grambling State game wasn’t the right time, evidently.
“I’m nitpicking, but I should have left the lineup as it is at that time,” he said.
Grambling State, as it turned out, went on to win the SWAC regular-season title, which it hadn’t done since the 1988-89 season.