The last person who might hold a “woe is us” response to Georgia Tech point guard Jose Alvarado’s season-ending elbow fracture and dislocation is probably Alvarado’s teammate Josh Okogie. The sophomore is confident, capable of playing point guard and also someone quite familiar with having a key player miss time because of injury.
“It’s always next man up,” he said. “When I went out with my injury (a dislocated finger), that was the thing. Next man up, everybody be ready to play. That’s the same thing now. It sucks for him, but I know he’s going to pull through. He’s a warrior, and we’re going to have his back until he comes back.”
Okogie missed eight games at the start of the season because of his six-game NCAA suspension and also his finger dislocation, which kept him out an additional two games.
Their season sliding away already – the Yellow Jackets have lost seven of eight – Tech will forge ahead without Alvarado, who was so indispensable to its operations that he had played 197 consecutive minutes when he suffered the injury in the first half of Sunday’s loss to Duke. Tech (11-14, 4-8 ACC) plays at Wake Forest on Wednesday (9 p.m., Fox Sports South). The Demon Deacons are themselves in a bit of a spiral, having lost 10 of their past 11.
Perhaps the most likely move is for coach Josh Pastner to move Okogie from the shooting guard spot to the point, as he did against Duke. He declined to tip his hand Monday on what he’ll do against Wake Forest (9-16, 2-11).
“Depending on the situation, we’ll just have to make it work,” Pastner said. “I thought (Okogie) was fine (Sunday). He came in, handled the ball, did some good things.”
Okogie scored 29 points with six rebounds and four assists against Duke. He sounded ready to move over to the point if called upon. He liked the idea of playing against a shorter opponent at the point.
“I can kind of look over him and kind of analyze the court and make a smart basketball play,” said Okogie, 6-foot-4.
But that’s only part of the tangle that Pastner has to solve. Less than three weeks ago, Tech had a seven-man rotation, but it was reduced to six when guard Curtis Haywood was shelved with a stress reaction in his shin and then down to five with Alvarado’s injury. Called upon Sunday, freshman forwards Evan Cole and Moses Wright played admirably, combining for 19 points and 12 rebounds and playing with abandon. It was a pleasant surprise for Tech, as they had combined for six points and three rebounds in ACC play before Sunday.
However, Cole and Wright are now likely the first two options off the bench, a different setting than getting sent into a blowout. (Pastner said Tuesday that he had not yet made up his mind about elevating Tadric Jackson into the starting lineup.)
“There was no pressure on them (Sunday),” Pastner said. “Can they play that well with the pressure on them? And they’re obviously going to have opportunities to do that starting Wednesday. I believe in them, and they’re going to have to get it done.”
Tech also has to find a way to find the 12.1 points, 3.7 rebounds and 3.1 assists that Alvarado was averaging. Okogie can expect to have to pick up some of that, but forward Abdoulaye Gueye has been struggling (17 points in the past four games), as has center Ben Lammers (10 points in the past two games), who suffered a slight knee injury against Louisville last Thursday.
Also, the Jackets are 1-7 on the road.
By RPI ranking, Wake Forest is easily the weakest team that Tech has played since playing and defeating Pittsburgh on Jan. 13, nine games ago. And Tech could build on its second half against Duke, when the Jackets outscored the Blue Devils 43-37, grabbed as many offensive rebounds (12) as Duke had defensive rebounds and had a 9/3 assist/turnover ratio.