Laboring more than might be expected for an ACC team playing at home against an opponent from possibly the weakest conference in Division I, Georgia Tech won its final game before the start of league play Wednesday, defeating Coppin State 76-62.
The Yellow Jackets trailed for nearly half the game but emerged with the win thanks to careful handling of the ball (six turnovers), the improved play of center Ben Lammers (22 points, 11 rebounds, six blocks) and excellent free-throw shooting (20-for-21 from the line).
Five observations from the game:
Jackets torched from 3-point range again
Tech opponents continued their torrid shooting from 3-point range. This game might have been the most unlikely. Coppin State entered the game making 27.1 percent of its 3-point tries, which ranked 349th out of 351 teams in Division I. In nine of their 12 games, the Eagles had shot under 30 percent from 3-point range, including the past two games, when they were a combined 12-for-52.
But with a number of open looks and a hot start, Coppin State finished the game making 12 of 26, a season-best 46.2 percent. Eight of Tech’s 12 opponents have shot 40 percent or better from beyond the arc, which is just two fewer than the Jackets allowed all last season. Hot 3-point shooting was at the heart of losses to Wofford, Georgia and Wright State.
Tech started the game ranked tied for 294th in 3-point field-goal defense (37.5 percent).
Coppin State guard forward Cedric Council, a North Cobb High grad, came into the game shooting 17.9 percent from 3-point range (5-for-28) but was 5-for-6 against the Jackets.
“I was like, you’ve got to be kidding me,” coach Josh Pastner said. “I mean, the second-to-last team in 3-point shooting (actually, third to last), and they’re firing not like Coppin State; they’re Golden State. It was just unbelievable.”
How the game was won
Coppin State, which was rated No. 308 in RPI through Monday and had lost its first 13 games by an average of 21.9 points, led Tech from the 7:39 mark of the first half until the 10:10 mark of the second half, save one 27-second span when it was tied.
The Jackets took control of the game in the final 10:10 of the game. Guard Josh Okogie, who had an off game offensively, hit a 3-pointer to tie the game at 51. Council answered with a 3 to take back the lead at 54-51, but the Jackets then took off on a 25-8 run to finish the game.
As is often the case, defensive stops produced transition baskets, as center Ben Lammers began to show some of his best form since his dazzling play in the season opener, challenging shots and pulling down rebounds to kill Coppin State possessions and start the break. Okogie, too, seemed to find his pace after the 3-pointer, notably throwing down a reverse dunk off a deft underhanded feed from guard Tadric Jackson on the break.
“It was tough for me first half,” Okogie said. “But when I hit that 3, it kind of gave me the confidence boost to keep on making plays.”
Lammers, who took awkward shots and was late on help defense through much of the game, repeating flaws he had shown through much of the season as he recovers from a sprained ankle, looked his best in the final few minutes.
He forced a miss on a layup that was so off the mark that it went over the backboard. He hit a jump hook. He made a quick slide to the basket off a feed from Jackson for a lay-in off the glass.
“This was the first game where everything started to feel close to being back to normal, at least, so I was able to do some things that I haven’t done in the past,” he said.
Lammers coming around?
The quote from Lammers, as well as the play that confirmed it to be the case, is no small development for the Jackets.
Pastner has made no secret that the season’s success rides to a heavy degree on Lammers’ shoulders. Since spraining his ankle in the second game of the season, Lammers has often looked like a shell of the player who won ACC defensive player of the year and was second-team All-ACC last season, as the quickness and agility that have made him so effective were slow in returning.
To protect the ankle, Lammers is still being held out of conditioning sprints in practice. He said, too, that his own overcompensation has gotten his body a little out of alignment. But he said that he thinks he’ll be back to 100 percent, if not by the ACC season opener at Notre Dame on Saturday, then next Wednesday in the ACC home opener against Miami.
Having Lammers at full strength would make a vast difference for Tech.
“In the last six minutes, he got it going,” Pastner said. “If Ben is playing as a very high-level player, we’re going to win a lot of games. If he’s not, it’s just going to get hard for us. And, yes, he’s obviously been banged up and he’s still banged up, so he’s not fully healthy, so a lot just comes down to how Ben Lammers plays.”
More injuries for Tech
Tech’s roster continues to get swept up in injury. Center Abdoulaye Gueye did not play after spraining his ankle in practice prior to the Coppin State game. He was in a walking boot Wednesday. Guard Curtis Haywood sat out for the fourth consecutive game with a shin injury and will not play against Notre Dame Saturday. Forward Sylvester Ogbonda was out again with an ankle injury. Guard Justin Moore remained home in San Diego after the death of a family friend, Pastner said, and will also miss the Notre Dame game. Tech took the floor with seven available scholarship players.
And then early in the second half, guard Jose Alvarado left the game with a head injury. He left the floor with trainer Rich Stewart and returned to the bench, but was not permitted to play for the remainder of the game, Pastner said, “because of protocol.” Asked if it was a concussion protocol, Pastner said he did not know. Pastner also said that he assumed Alvarado would be available to play against Notre Dame.
Not having Alvarado, who has probably been Tech’s most dependable player to this point, would be a considerable hurdle against the Irish. Among other things, it would leave Tech with just six available scholarship players if no other injured players can come back.
Grain of salt
While the final several minutes of the game may have offered some measure of encouragement for those who have seen Tech wallow through nonconference losses to Grambling State, Wofford and Wright State (not to mention UCLA, Tennessee and Georgia), any such optimism might also be tempered by the following.
The team that Tech had to rally to beat at home has yet to win a game this season. Further, not a small factor in the win was the discrepancy at the free-throw line, where the Jackets were 20-for-21 and Coppin State was 2-for-3.
“I thought we attacked the basket, got in the paint,” Coppin State coach and Maryland great Juan Dixon said. “They took 21 free throws to our three.”
(Tech was 20-for-20 until guard Brandon Alston, who had made 82.8 percent of his free throws this season, missed the front end of a one-and-one with 43 seconds remaining. Had the foul not been called, the Jackets would have set a school record for most free throws without a miss.)
Further, Tech scored 16 second-chance points, a season high, to Coppin State’s nine. The Jackets’ efforts on the offensive glass were aided by their superior athleticism and height, advantages that Tech won’t have once ACC play begins.
“The thing is, people’s size gives us issues, whether it’s getting second-chance points or beating us up inside in the post,” Dixon said.
Further, Coppin State was without its point guard Dejuan Clayton, whom Dixon said was the team’s best player.