Georgia Tech was overwhelmed by a stout second half from Notre Dame, leading to a 68-59 defeat for the Yellow Jackets in both teams’ ACC opener Saturday.
Tech (6-7, 0-1 ACC) relied on six players to play 198 of the available 200 minutes and was not able to keep up the play that had established a 28-23 halftime lead. On a day when both teams shot below 40 percent from the field, Notre Dame (11-3, 1-0) had advantages on the glass at both ends, led by All-ACC forward Bonzie Colson’s 17 rebounds.
Here are five observations from the game:
When the game was lost
Ahead 28-23 at halftime, Tech withstood an 8-0 Notre Dame run to start the second half that gave the Irish a 31-28 lead and then responded with baskets from center Ben Lammers and guard Tadric Jackson to take the lead back at 32-31.
As is their wont, the Fighting Irish started to catch fire on offense, breaking down the Tech defense with the pass and on the dribble with guard Matt Farrell to create open shots. Notre Dame scored on nine of its next 10 possessions, a total of 20 points. Colson was at his best, making jumpers and using his quickness and strength to get to the foul line. Tech could not keep up on its own end, getting points from Jackson on more drives to the rim, but otherwise missing jumpers and layup tries.
The sequence ended with a dunk by forward Martinas Geben for a 51-40 lead. The lead was never less than nine the rest of the way.
Lammers’ shooting woes continue
Lammers, Tech’s All-ACC center, had a rough go on offense, shooting 5 of 18 from the field for 11 points. Lammers has recovered from an ankle sprain that had him hobbled for most of November and December, but his stroke has eluded him.
Trying to get him going early, coach Josh Pastner ran several plays for Lammers, and he took six shots in the Jackets’ first nine possessions, but made just two. In the game, he missed jumpers and shots at the rim, including a pair of point-blank tip-in tries in the first half.
An engineer to his core, Lammers explained that his body had adjusted to shooting with less lift with the sprain and now has to reacclimate to his normal elevation on his jump shot before conceding that, “Honestly, I think it’s all mental.”
It has been frustrating for Lammers, who said he has improved as a jump shooter from last season but hasn’t seen the results on the floor since the sprain. Pastner called timeout to chastise him in the second half when, frustrated with himself for missing a 3-pointer, he didn’t sprint back on defense, which enabled Notre Dame’s Rex Pflueger to make a 3-pointer that pushed the lead to 49-40.
“I’ve got to learn not to think about it too much,” Lammers said.
Pastner reiterated the team’s high degree of dependence on the senior.
“We need Ben Lammers to play better,” he said. “There’s no gray area about it. If he plays really well for us, we’re going to have a great chance to win the game. If he doesn’t, it’s just going to be hard for us.”
A huge difference at the line
Remarkably, both teams were 23-for-60 from the field, and both took 20 3-pointers and shot 18 free throws. Notre Dame made one more 3-pointer, seven to six, but the difference was at the free-throw line. One game after making 20 of 21 free-throw tries, the Jackets were 7 of 18, 38.9 percent. Notre Dame, ranked No. 27 nationally in free-throw percentage at 76.4 percent, made 15 of 18. Tech’s rate was a season low by a wide margin and the first time the Jackets have been under 50 percent from the line since the 2015-16 season.
“We’ve just got to – including myself – lock in and knock down those free throws,” said guard Josh Okogie, who scored a team-high 16 points but was 2 of 4 from the line. “We played hard (Saturday) and I’m satisfied with our effort. We’ve just got to find a way to win.”
Brandon Alston, Jose Alvarado, Okogie and Lammers, who all were above 80 percent from the free-throw line before the game, were a combined 6 of 13.
“I think that was the key,” Lammers said. “Because if we would have made all of our free throws in the first half, we probably would have been up by at least 10 points, which would have made the second half a much different game.”
Forward Abdoulaye Gueye started after losing his spot in the starting five to freshman Moses Wright, playing solid defense when he wasn’t in foul trouble. Forward Evan Cole, another freshman, was limited to two minutes after playing 15 against Coppin State on Wednesday. Pastner said he was not satisfied with how either player practiced in the two days leading to the Notre Dame game.
“Those are things that those two young men need to learn,” Pastner said. “Part of our culture that I want to make sure that we instill (is) how important practice is and how important practicing with the right energy and mindset every time we step on the floor (is).”
Alvarado, who had been questionable to play following a head injury in the Coppin State game, played 40 minutes, as did Okogie and Lammers. He finished with 11 points on 4 of 8 shooting with one assist, one steal, one rebound and one turnover.
Pastner remains optimistic
The Jackets defended well enough to win. Notre Dame averaged 1.02 points per possession and shot 38.3 percent from the field, well below its lofty standards. Colson scored 22 points, but needed 21 shots to do it.
Tech also turned the ball over only seven times, well below its season average of 13.3 per game, a high priority for Pastner. Jackson played a strong game on offense, making 7 of 10 field-goal attempts inside the 3-point arc for 15 points. Jackson has scored in double figures in all 10 games he has played this season.
But other challenges that have been near constant this season – ineffective ball movement, Lammers’ shooting struggles and Tech’s errancy from the 3-point arc (6-for-20) – were too much to overcome. What also thwarted the Jackets in South Bend was a failure to convert nine offensive rebounds into any points, while the Irish scored 16 points off their 13 offensive rebounds.
“I do believe we still are a very dangerous team,” Pastner said. “We’ve just got to keep building and getting better and the scoreboard will turn out our way.”