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5 observations from Georgia Tech’s win over Wake Forest

In a game heavy on turnovers and missed field-goal attempts, Georgia Tech finished the regular season with a 64-56 win over Wake Forest on Saturday at McCamish Pavilion. The Yellow Jackets won despite shooting 36.8 percent from the field and turning the ball over 17 times, as the Demon Deacons were even more egregious in both categories. Tech (13-18, 6-12) won its 12th consecutive home game over Wake Forest (11-19, 4-14).

Here are five observations from the game:

1. Okogie’s effort leads the Jackets

While leading the team in scoring with 22 points, guard Josh Okogie did considerably more to help secure the win for the Jackets. Active on help defense and a rugged one-on-one defender, Okogie came up with a career-high five steals and drew at least three charges. He added two blocks, including one in which he chased down Wake Forest guard Bryant Crawford to pin his fast-break layup against the glass.

Not even including his six defensive rebounds, that’s 10 possessions wiped out because of Okogie’s quickness and effort, 13 percent of Wake Forest’s 76 possessions. That’s a significant advantage in a game in which Tech was ahead by only two in the final minute. (It bears mention that Okogie also turned the ball over four times and was 5-for-14 from the field.)

“He’s been like that since his first day of freshman year, where he’s just kind of an all-around energy guy,” center Ben Lammers said. “Obviously, he’s a great scorer, great defender, but he also does the dirty work that you need to do to win.”

He made perhaps the most significant defensive play of the game, drawing a charge from Crawford as he drove to the basket with 23 seconds left and Tech up two. (Asked about the call, Wake Forest coach Danny Manning gave the questioner a long look and answered, “You tell me. You guys watched it.”)

The charge put Wake Forest in a position of having to foul, and Okogie finished off the Demon Deacons with four free throws in the last 11 seconds, part of an 11-for-12 effort from the line. He also reached 1,000 points for his career in the game, joining Kenny Anderson, Dennis Scott, James Forrest, Matt Harpring and Mark Price as the only players in school history to reach that milestone as sophomores.

Asked if Okogie was an All-ACC player, Manning replied, “Absolutely. He plays hard. He makes things happen.”

2. Senior day

Aside from the final result, it was perhaps not the senior day that either  Lammers or guard Tadric Jackson likely imagined. Lammers was confined to the bench in foul trouble and played 25 minutes, his second lowest total of the season. He scored six points with four rebounds and was 2-for-7 from the field. A Wake Forest fan also derisively yelled out “Nice hair!” as Lammers and his aggressively tousled coif as he took (and made) a free throw.

“At least it’s a memory,” Lammers said of the foul trouble. “As long as we win, I don’t really care.”

Jackson finished with 12 points on 5-for-14 shooting with four assists against six turnovers, tying his career high. He also unwisely fouled Crawford on a transition basket for a conventional three-point play inside the final minute that cut the lead to two. He also left the game briefly in the second half when he was poked in the eye.

Pastner said he had to pull Jackson aside late in the first half and tell him that he looked like he was in cement, lacked toughness and would live with regret for how he played on senior day if he didn’t pick it up.

Jackson responded and in the second half created two plays on the pass on successive possessions that gave Tech a lift, drawing in the defense that gave openings for Okogie to hit a 3-pointer and forward Evan Cole to go baseline for a dunk.

Jackson “had a hardness about himself and helped us get the win, obviously,” Pastner said.

3. Clunky game

It was not a pretty affair. Wake Forest, which had a week to prepare for the game, turned the ball over 22 times, the Demon Deacons’ season high and also the high for a Tech opponent. The Jackets had 17 turnovers, many caused by head-scratching passes. The teams both shot under 40 percent from the field.

Both teams came out lacking energy, perhaps dulled by the noon tipoff. Similarly, the announced crowd of 7,422, perhaps lethargic from Pastner’s giveaway of 3,500 Chick-fil-A chicken biscuits, was not at top form early on. 

In Tech’s first nine possessions, the Jackets turned the ball over five times and was 1-for-3 from the field. Pastner took forward Moses Wright out just 43 seconds into the game after he gave the ball away on the dribble and then fouled immediately after the turnover.

Tech’s offensive efficiency rating, per KenPom, was 85.1. Going into Saturday’s games, no ACC game had been won with a lower rating this season.

“Honestly, that sometimes happens with these 12 o’clock games,” Lammers said. “Just both teams are a little lethargic or not quite as amped up, ready to go. We eventually got stuff together.”

4. Building momentum

After losing 11 of 12, Tech will go into the ACC Tournament with two consecutive wins. It’s a testament to the Jackets’ continued fight after a series of injuries and discouraging results. Pastner praised his team’s continued improvement and effort in practice and in games despite the prolonged bouts of losing.

“The bench and the guys, they’ve been great all year long, even through some tough stretches,” Pastner said. “Guys have stayed positive, upbeat, they’ve come to practice, they’ve worked. Unbelievable attitudes. It is not normal in this day and age, and that’s a credit to those young men and really good culture with those guys.”

The Jackets seem to have found a workable lineup with Jackson at the point and freshmen Cole and Wright in the starting lineup. In successive games against Virginia, Clemson and N.C. State with Jackson at the point, Tech had an offensive efficiency rating (KenPom) of 100 or higher, the first time in Pastner’s tenure that Tech hit triple digits in three consecutive ACC games.

Cole scored the first double-double of his career Saturday with 10 points and 10 rebounds, four on the offensive glass. Backup guard Brandon Alston is playing his best of the season, giving 38 minutes Saturday with 12 points and only one turnover.

5. On to Brooklyn

With the win, Tech secured the No. 13 seed in the ACC Tournament, which begins Tuesday at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y. Tech will play the No. 12 seed, Boston College. The game will be at noon.

Tech lost 80-72 in overtime to the Eagles on Feb. 4 in Chestnut Hill, Mass., a game in which the Jackets shot 50.9 percent from the field, but were done in by 13 turnovers and Boston College’s 11-for-23 shooting from 3-point range. It will be the fourth ACC Tournament matchup between the two teams in six years, two of the first three won by Boston College.

The winner of the 12-13 game will advance to play the No. 5 seed after the noon game Wednesday. The fifth seed had yet to be determined as of Saturday afternoon.

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