With its three best players contributing in concert, Georgia Tech pulled off the biggest win of its disappointing season, upsetting likely NCAA Tournament team N.C. State 78-75 Thursday night at McCamish Pavilion. The Yellow Jackets rallied from a nine-point deficit early in the second half led by the play of center Ben Lammers and guards Tadric Jackson and Josh Okogie, who combined for 36 points, 11 rebounds and 11 assists after halftime. Tech (12-18 overall, 5-12 ACC) ended a seven-game losing streak while N.C. State (20-10, 11-7) saw its four-game winning streak come to an end.
Here are five observations from the game:
1. Lammers dominant
Lammers played one of the best games of his career. Against 7-foot center Omer Yurtseven, Lammers used his quickness in the post to spin for layups and reverses and finished with 22 points on 9-for-13 shooting to go with nine rebounds. He also set a career high with seven assists, five in the second half as he repeatedly found teammates cutting to the basket with bounce passes and lobs for layups.
“I think we just went back to our bread and butter,” Lammers said. “What made us so successful last year was just, we’d cut hard, either off me in the high post or in the low post, and I think that’s why I was able to see all those guys.”
After spraining his ankle in the second game of the season, Lammers, a second-team All-ACC pick last year, has finally felt himself in the past three games and the results have indicated as much. He has shot 57.5 percent from the field (23-for-40) and averaged 17.7 points and 7.7 rebounds with 12 assists and five blocks.
“This is what we expected Ben Lammers to be,” coach Josh Pastner said. “That’s why we run our entire offensive and defensive packages around him. When he’s healthy and feeling good, we’re just a different team.”
2. Tough game for Wright
Freshman forward Moses Wright was out of sync much of the first half, as was fellow freshman forward Evan Cole. Pastner said they were like deer caught in the headlights. Wright had trouble even making seemingly routine catches, was wild with his passing and was missing on his shots. He played 15 minutes in the first half and had three turnovers and was 0-for-4 from the field.
He didn’t play much better in the second half, finishing the game 1-for-9 with four points, four rebounds and four turnovers in 23 minutes. It was perhaps not an entirely unsurprising performance given that he is in the lineup due to injuries and is seen by Pastner as a developmental player. But it was still below his recent standards. It was likely difficult also on a personal level, as Wright is from Raleigh, N.C., and was presumably being watched back home on television by family and friends.
Still, he came through with one of the plays of the game, showing the athletic ability that makes him a promising player for the Jackets. Down eight with just under 16 minutes left in the game, N.C. State guard Torin Dorn ripped down the lane and attacked the basket for a dunk. A 10-point lead might have given the Wolfpack the momentum they needed to begin to pull away.
However, Wright blocked Dorn at the rim, triggering a fast-break opportunity that resulted in a layup for Jackson that began a 7-0 run that cut the lead to 48-47 and got the Jackets within striking distance.
“Changed the game,” Pastner said in a text message after the game.
3. Where the game was won
In a three-possession sequence, Jackson used savvy and athletic ability to secure the game for the Jackets. Tech had come back from a nine-point second-half deficit and engaged in a duel with the Wolfpack, one that the visitors seemed far more likely to win. The lead changed hands 11 times in the second half.
Tech was ahead 73-72 when Okogie earned a possession by drawing a charge on Allerik Freeman. Jackson went to work. With Yurtseven fronting Lammers in the high post, Jackson was finally able to run a play they had wanted to use all game. Lammers slipped to the basket and Jackson threaded a pass to him for a layup and a 75-72 lead with 1:20 to play.
On N.C. State’s ensuing possession, point guard Braxton Beverly drove, but his shot was blocked by Jackson and the ball was recovered by Okogie with just under a minute to play. Lastly, Lammers found Jackson cutting to the basket, but he couldn’t make the catch cleanly. Rather than force up a shot, Jackson found Okogie in the corner, and he buried a 3-pointer for a 78-72 lead with 37 seconds to play, a margin that withstood N.C. State’s final charge.
Jackson finished with 22 points, his second-highest total of the season, five rebounds and five assists, the latter tying a career high.
4. Where the game was almost lost
The six-point lead after Okogie’s 3-pointer gave the Jackets the margin to survive the final 37 seconds, a horror-filled span for a team that has had more than its share of calamity. Beverly scored on a second-chance 3-pointer to cut the lead to 78-75 with 22 seconds left, a shot enabled by Jackson watching the rebound of the first shot rather than attempt to secure it. Okogie broke N.C. State’s press and drove to the basket. Rather than pull the ball out and burn more clock or wait for the Wolfpack to foul, Okogie tried an alley-oop pass to forward Evan Cole that he was unable to bring down, resulting in a turnover and a chance for the Wolfpack to tie.
“I’m like, Are you kidding me?” Pastner said. “Is this going to be going down?”
On N.C. State’s final possession, the Wolfpack – who to that point had hit seven of 12 3-point tries – had two chances to send the game to overtime, but missed.
“We’ve been snakebit this year, we deserved the ball to bounce our way,” Pastner said. “At the end, thankfully it did.”
5. One to savor
The season has not been an easy one to endure. As has been noted previously, it has included a heavy dosage of injuries and disruptions away from the court.
But, Thursday night, Lammers, Jackson and Okogie led the way (“Our studs were studs,” as Pastner put it) and the Jackets pulled the upset of the Wolfpack. A game after fouls tilted away from Tech, the Jackets were the beneficiaries, getting called for 10 fouls to N.C. State’s 19, two of them technicals.
However it came, it ended a streak of seven consecutive losses and 11 in the past 12.
“We needed this one,” Jackson said. “This was a desperate win. It feels like it was time.”
Lammers called it a little bittersweet to have finally found something of an answer in their current five-man lineup – one that played well in losses at Virginia and Clemson before locking down Thursday’s win – so late in the season.
“But that’s basketball,” he said. “It’s kind of like life. Stuff gets thrown at you, you have lineup changes, you can’t control injuries or anything like that. So you just kind of have to go with the hand you’re given.”