- By Ken Sugiura
More observations and thoughts from Georgia Tech’s 72-70 loss to No. 18 Clemson Sunday night at McCamish Pavilion. For the “5 observations” story, read here.
1. Overall, Georgia Tech played a good game. The Yellow Jackets did most of the things that coach Josh Pastner wants, starting with taking care of the ball (nine turnovers) and making free throws (15 of 19). The defensive rebounding could have been better, but didn’t turn out to be a decisive factor (Clemson had eight-second chance points on 13 offensive rebounds). Tech was also better defending drives to the basket, another trouble spot this season.
Point guard Jose Alvarado played better – five assists against two turnovers after a combined 3/7 in the past two games – and his shot selection was better. Guard Josh Okogie had one of his better games of the season.
Guard Tadric Jackson and center Ben Lammers both could have shot the ball better. But on the whole, a better performance than the previous three games, certainly (losses to Virginia, North Carolina and Florida State, although the quality of competition and location needs to be considered.)
Tech did fail to put the game away in the first half in the way that Florida State did to the Jackets last Wednesday, when the Seminoles jumped the lead from five points with 3:18 left in the half to 14 by halftime. It built enough of a margin to withstand Tech’s comeback attempts.
Sunday against Clemson, Tech led by 12 at the 8:34 mark in the first half and eight with 4:06 left, but ultimately went into the half up just two, which was not enough given how well the Jackets had played on offense in the half.
“We had that lead in the first half and it’s kind of been one of our things, we haven’t been able to bury a team,” Pastner said. “Part of that is just youth.”
Clemson was shooting exceedingly well from 3-point range, which was not entirely to Tech’s discredit. A lot of the made shots were well beyond the arc and/or challenged.
Sometimes a team plays well enough to win and still loses. A two-point loss would suggest that was the case Sunday night. It is unfortunate that it follows three losses, but that’s how the schedule fell.
“We’ve just got to learn from this one and move on,” Okogie said.
2. Okogie imposed his will in the final minutes, scoring 10 points in the final 2:33, forcing a 70-70 tie with 41.2 seconds left when he made a pair of free throws. Notably, he made the free throws after he drove the lane and kicked out to guard Brandon Alston and then rebounded Alston’s miss from 3-point range and then got fouled going back up with a putback.
He finished with 26 points on 7-for-10 shooting (10-for-12 at the line) along with six rebounds, four assists and a block against three turnovers in 38 minutes.
“His effort and his motor, it was just an internal will to find a way,” Pastner said. “Proud of him for that.”
It followed his career-best 16-rebound game against Florida State and a stat sheet stuffer against North Carolina – 18 points on 16 shots, seven rebounds, three assists, three blocks and two steals with just two turnovers.
“Josh Okogie is one of the best players in our league and was last year as a freshman and certainly hasn’t done anything to change that,” Clemson coach Brad Brownell said Monday on the ACC teleconference.
Okogie has been consistent with effort and you get the sense that he takes the leadership of the team and getting the Jackets out of their losing streak with due responsibility.
“At this point of the season, no matter how you get the win, whether it’s good offense or bad offense, we just need to win,” Okogie said.
At the risk of belaboring the obvious, this is an exceptional season that he’s having. Okogie is now averaging 18.3 points per game. If he holds at that average for the rest of the season, it will be the highest single-season scoring average for a Tech player since Matt Harpring averaged 21.6 points per game in 1997-98.
3. As noted above, Alvarado played a better game. In recent games, he had been guilty of shot selection that was perhaps a little hopeful, often driving into the lane against post players for difficult shots. On two-point shots in the previous three games, he was 0-for-5 against Virginia, 2-for-4 against North Carolina and 4-for-9 against Pitt. He also had 10 turnovers in those games.
He was more discriminating against Clemson, taking six shots total, four from inside the arc. He was 2-for-4 on those shots (1-for-2 from 3-point range). He also had five assists, tying his high for an ACC game, against two turnovers.
It would seem he took to heart Pastner’s coaching points to keep his dribble on drives into the lane rather than put up tough layup tries. As has been noted previously, he’s learning on the job, and his effort Sunday was a step forward.
Tech also did a better job, it seemed, defending drives to the basket, for which he deserves some credit, also.
“He’s going to be a great four-year player for us and we’re committed to him and so him being in the fire, all this stuff’s going to be good for him in the long term,” Pastner said.
He has a fan in Brownell.
“I was really impressed with Alvarado first time seeing him live,” Brownell said. “His speed and quickness was really good and I thought he played the game with really good poise.”
4. The game was Tech’s fourth loss in a row, which was a strange and undesired first for Pastner. Going back to his freshman season at Arizona (1996-97), he had never been on a team that had lost four consecutive games. That’s a total of four seasons as a player, nine as an assistant at Arizona and Memphis, seven as head coach at Memphis and 1 ½ at Tech, a stretch of 733 games.
Until earlier this season, Pastner wasn’t shy about mentioning that he had never lost three games as a row as a head coach. Through last season, the only two power-conference coaches who could make that claim over the previous eight seasons were he and John Calipari. That bit the dust with three non-conference losses in a row, to Grambling State, Tennessee and Wofford.
He did have two three-game losing streaks as an assistant coach at Arizona. But he’s in new territory now.
(This reminds me of a stat that I heard when I was covering the Falcons regarding Brett Favre, that he had never lost a game under a certain game-time temperature. It was an impressive stat, but I remember someone saying that the stat was continually adjusted whenever the Packers lost a game at a certain temperature. So, like, if he lost a game at 25 degrees, the stat then became, “Brett Favre has never lost when game-time temperature was 24 degrees or below.”)