Continuing its diet of the weakest teams in Division I, Georgia Tech took care of Texas-Rio Grande Valley Wednesday night at McCamish Pavilion. The Yellow Jackets secured victory by a 78-68 score, having led by as many as 19 points late.
Five observations of the game:
1. Shooting guard Brandon Alston came in handy. With backup point guard Justin Moore unavailable because he is serving a two-game suspension for an NCAA rules violation, coach Josh Pastner turned to Alston, a graduate transfer from Lehigh, to run the point when point guard Jose Alvarado was taken out of the game with four fouls at the 14:48 mark of the second half.
Alston’s run at the point wasn’t quite a showstopper, but he managed. He came to the ball, managed possessions and did not turn the ball over for the entirety of his 36 minutes. When Alvarado returned to the game with 5:13 to play, the lead had been reduced by four points, 14 to 10.
“I haven’t been getting that many reps at it, but our offense is pretty equal opportunity for everybody, so the spots are pretty much the same on the court,” said Alston, who played the point in high school.
2. Alston finished with a team-high 20 points, which was also a career high. After starting and averaging 32 minutes per game in the first three games, it’s likely that Alston’s minutes will go down once guards Tadric Jackson and Josh Okogie return from their NCAA suspensions. (Jackson comes back Friday for the North Texas game, Okogie for the December 3 Tennessee game.)
But he has shown an ability to get defensive rebounds (which Pastner prizes out of guards) and has a knack for getting to the free-throw line. And Wednesday, he was 2-for-3 from 3-point range and then was back on Cremins Court after the game putting up more shots.
It was unclear when he transferred how much he would contribute, and the answer is still unclear with the impending returns of Okogie and Jackson. But he has made an impression on Pastner, who said he might be the No. 1 gym rat on the team, possibly even surpassing Okogie.
“He’s in the gym all the time working on his game individually,” Pastner said. “The proof’s in the pudding, the way he works at it. He’s a good player for us.”
Go figure: At Lehigh, a pretty good team in a one-bid league (the Patriot), Alston played more than 36 minutes just once in two seasons, and now has done it twice at Tech, in arguably the strongest conference in the country.
3. Power forward Abdoulaye Gueye showed off improvements in his game. In a career-high 34 minutes, Gueye demonstrated increased facility at the offensive end, whether it was driving to the basket, making shots or handling the ball in the post. Gueye, a junior, hit the first two 3-pointers of his career, scored a career-high 13 points, took down seven rebounds and handed out five assists, also a career high. It wasn’t all pretty – he was 3-for-8 from the field and turned the ball over three times – but he did score on a deft jump hook in the post.
Gueye was the primary backup to center Ben Lammers last season, but missed the last 15 games of the season with a fractured wrist, curtailing his development.
“If you watched him last year to where he is now, it’s night and day, and that bodes well to what we’ve tried to build here,” Pastner said. “I say player development is going to have to be a key thing for us.”
4. With his three-game suspension over, Jackson is slated to return Friday for the North Texas game at McCamish. Jackson has been playing well in practice, Pastner said, but has not played in a game setting with the team since the exhibition game against Faulkner. He and Okogie also did not accompany the team to China.
“So he might be a little rusty, but he’s going to have to get it done and find a way to make sure he comes in ready to go,” Pastner said. “He’s been doing a nice job on his own in conditioning and making sure he kept himself in shape.”
5. The Jackets played a better offensive game against Texas-Rio Grande Valley, a team that was 10-22 last season and was ranked 318th in adjusted defensive efficiency (kenpom). The Jackets made 54.2 percent of their shots, including 60 percent in the second half, after having shot 36.7 percent in the first two games. The 18 assists were a high for the first three games of the season. The 3-point shooting (5-for-12) seemed more in rhythm.
However, against the Vaqueros’ trapping pressure, Tech turned the ball over 16 times, although two were in the final minute when Pastner subbed in four walk-ons (and then promptly subbed them back out after the mistakes). Still, for a team that – as Pastner is wont to say, has little margin for error – that’s a lot of missed opportunities. Tech had a combined 30 turnovers in the first two games.