Against a team desperate to buck a three-game losing streak and showing up to the arena with an energy shortage, Georgia Tech took its sixth loss in the past seven games.
Jumped on from the start, the Yellow Jackets were routed by Louisville, which sped to a 77-54 win Thursday night at the KFC Yum Center. It was Tech’s largest margin of defeat since the 32-point loss to TCU in the NIT final last season.
Tech (11-13 overall, 4-7 ACC) never led and lost a handle on the game when Louisville (17-8, 7-5) sprung a 16-1 run on the Jackets midway through the first half. There was little mystery in the game’s outcome after that.
Five observations from the game:
1. Off their game
From the start, the Jackets were a step slow and lacked focus. They weren’t able to complete seemingly simple passes, missed several shots at the basket, were consistently beaten to loose balls and did not vigorously challenge Louisville’s 3-point shots.
“It’s one of those things where no one knows exactly why,” center Ben Lammers said. “It’s just, everyone came out flat and not a lot of energy.”
Lammers struggled through one of his poorest games in the past two seasons, scoring two points on 1-for-8 shooting from the field. The misses included a couple jump shots that were well off target. Coming out of one timeout in the first half, Tech ran a play where Lammers flashed coming across the lane, which got him a relatively clean look at a layup, which he missed.
Lammers had four rebounds – none in the second half – and seemed to lack his usual bounce. He said it wasn’t related to his playing all 45 minutes of Tech’s overtime loss to Boston College on Sunday, the first time a Tech player has done that since the 1998-99 season. (Guard Jose Alvarado also played all 45.)
“Physically, I felt pretty much fine,” he said. “It was just one of those things. I don’t know why I just didn’t have the normal adrenaline or energy that gets me going. I always have a routine I do pretty much the same stuff before a game, so I can’t explain why it happened. I guess I should have recognized it earlier and tried to do something to psyche myself up.”
Guard Josh Okogie had a similarly unimpeded shot at the basket on a layup in the open court, but he missed that as well. He also had a jump shot from the free-throw line blocked by guard Ryan McMahon, just the second block of the season for the 6-foot-0 guard.
“I didn’t even see him,” said Okogie, who is 6-4. “He just jumped out and I tried to shoot it. He came out of nowhere. It was a great defensive play by him. We need more of that on our defense for us.”
2. Poor defense of the arc again
The Cardinals torched the Jackets with 60 percent shooting from 3-point range, making 12 of 20 attempts. Guard Jordan Nwora, a freshman whom Tech pursued out of high school, was 5-for-7 off the bench, setting career highs for makes and attempts. He became the latest Jackets opponent to have a field day from beyond the arc.
Tech was slow to challenge beyond the arc, seemingly failing to recognize the dangers presented by Nwora (38.4 percent shooting from 3-point range coming into the game) and McMahon (40.6 percent), who was 2-for-4. Coach Josh Pastner called Nwora and McMahon’s 3-point contributions the difference in the game.
“Our lack of energy on some of those closeouts was obviously disappointing,” Pastner said.
Tech’s last gasp was snuffed out by a Louisville 3-pointer. In the second half, Tech closed to within 37-27 after an 11-3 run to start the second half. Alvarado missed a 3-pointer that would have cut the lead to seven and then Nwora was one-on-one with Lammers. Nwora feinted a drive to get Lammers in retreat, giving him the space to drop a 3-pointer for a 13-point lead. Tech got the lead down to 10 points once more, but never into single digits.
After holding ACC opponents to 31.2 percent shooting from 3-point range in their first nine games, the Jackets permitted Boston College and Miami to shoot a combined 53.5 percent.
“Our closeouts were poor the last two games,” Pastner said. “When that happens, guys are getting shots, and all of a sudden, they get on a rhythm and the basketball looks like you’re standing on a pier shooting into the ocean.”
3. Way too many turnovers (again)
Tech’s 20 turnovers were a season high (by one) and tied the high for Pastner’s 61-game tenure at Tech. The Jackets were flummoxed by Louisville’s height, length and quickness and its zone defense. Louisville coach David Padgett said that the team had close to 50 deflections, a remarkable number given that Tech had 71 possessions. Louisville’s deflections goal for each game is 35.
Louisville had 15 steals, picking off many balls by extending into passing lanes. It’s the highest steal total against Tech this season. Nwora had a career game in the steals department, too, with four. McMahon also had four steals, also a career high.
“We tried to simulate their length and their athleticism within practice on the scout team, and we weren’t able to simulate as much as they are in the games, obviously,” Pastner said.
The turnover binge was particularly significant because Pastner has been trying to find a way to get his team to curb the giveaways.
Louisville’s zone often prevented Tech from obtaining clear shots and derailed effective ball movement. Tech had pockets of efficient and crisp play, but they were overshadowed by possessions devolving into one-on-one play.
“It’s one of those mentality things,” Lammers said. “We need to learn to be able to attack from the right spot to open things up. Unfortunately, we haven’t learned yet, but hopefully it’ll pick up soon.”
4. Playing well in defeat
Okogie was Tech’s lone bright spot, finishing with a game-high 25 points on 9-for-18 shooting to go with 10 rebounds for his second double-double of the season. He has scored in double figures in all but one of his 16 games this season and has seven games of 20 or more.
“One kid obviously hurt us, it was Okogie, but he’s a great player,” Padgett said. “He shot the ball well.”
He continued his efficient shooting from 3-point range, making four of six attempts. He has now made 24 of 58 attempts, 41.4 percent. He was central in Tech’s run to start the second half, lining up a 3-pointer and then scoring in transition and getting fouled for a traditional 3-point play.
“It was hard for us to score; they got up really quickly, but I liked the intensity we showed in the second half for the most part,” Okogie said.
5. Frustrating times
There was some consolation to be taken in the manner that Tech pushed back to start the second half, but this was a pretty dismal night. It could arguably be considered the most discouraging game of the season. Tech has lost 13 games, but perhaps none in the manner of Thursday’s defeat when the Jackets were consistently outhustled and outplayed. Lammers’ slump continues and against Louisville there was no one else to provide much scoring pop besides Okogie. Alvarado was second behind Okogie with 11, but eight of those points were in the final 10 minutes of the game when the outcome was already clear.
Forward Abdoulaye Gueye, who was making 58.5 percent of his shots in ACC play, was 2-for-9 for six points.
“I’ve got to do better, keep my head up and move on to the next,” he said.
Okogie conceded that the Jackets are going through a frustrating stretch.
“But like I always like to say, That’s what you sign up for when you play in the ACC,” he said. “The biggest thing is we’ve got to learn from this game and try to find a way to win this Sunday (against Duke).”