#TGW: Defense Back in the House

Jose Alvarado came up big with three steals and the first two blocked shots of his career.
Jan. 4, 2018

By Matt Winkeljohn | The Good Word

- So many smiles returned to Georgia Tech Wednesday night that McCamish Pavilion felt like a brand, new place. And the Yellow Jackets played like a new team, or, one might say, an older one.

It was an upset measured against the past month, but when Georgia Tech picked off No. 15 Miami Wednesday night, 64-54, maybe that shouldn’t have come as a complete surprise.

The Jackets moved to 8-2 in home ACC games under head coach Josh Pastner, with four top 15 upsets. Last season, Tech picked off North Carolina, Florida State and Notre Dame in McCamish.

This season, Tech (7-7, 1-1 ACC) has been so disrupted by injuries, suspensions, a trip to China and a staff change that it’s felt like, well, think about how many times Pastner has responded to questions only to include, “this season . . . [fill in blank].”

Sophomore Josh Okogie, who missed the first eight games because of an NCAA suspension and a dislocated left index finger, filled the basket Wednesday with 30 points.

“I think this is a big momentum changer for our season, a great building block of what we know we can do,” he said after making 10-of-23 shots, including 1-of-5 3-pointers. “Obviously, we haven’t had too many big wins this season so our confidence wasn’t at an extremely high level.”

Miami (12-2, 1-1) ran into high-level defense.

Tech scrambled like mad all night, much as the Jackets so often did last season, and held the Hurricanes to 28.6 percent shooting in the second half (8-of-28).

Okogie and seniors Ben Lammers and Tadric Jackson had three steals each, and Miami turned the ball over 18 times, leading to 21 Tech points.

 

 

That’s a formula the Jackets would like to follow again.

“We’ve been injured, we’ve had guys out, we haven’t been able to practice with our full complement of guys,” Pastner said. “Just [Tuesday], for the first day of official practice our entire team was able to stretch together.

“Today was a good sign of us improving and getting better to beat a very, very good team, a top 15 team, and we did it through defense.”

Freshman guard Curtis Haywood II remained unavailable to play because of a shin injury, and that once again shortened Tech’s rotation. Plus, Pastner opted to play Okogie, Lammers and freshman point guard Jose Alvarado each more than 39 of 40 minutes. Just seven Jackets played.

Tied at 28 at halftime, the Jackets rode a 10-0 run early in the second half to seize momentum and a 46-34 lead on Alvarado’s layup with 9:18 left in the game only to see the Hurricanes rally back with a 10-0 spurt to within 46-44 on a pair of free throws by Dewan Huell at the 4:36 mark.

Tech’s offense had fallen into a deep freeze.

An Okogie steal -- one of the team’s 13 -- and layup broke the ice, and then there came more back and forth.

“We as a team, we’re good, but he’s also a good leader,” Alvarado said of Okogie. “He leads us on defense, and on offense and he just tries to keep us all energized with him.”

The Jackets closed the game by making their final six shots against a Miami defense that entered the game among the nation’s 10 most effective by a number of measures.

Lammers scored the game’s final points, fittingly, on a pair of free throws with 34 seconds left.

One of Pastner’s goals for the Jackets in every game is to make more free throws than the opponent attempts. That’s tough to do, but Tech pulled it off Wednesday, when the Jackets made 17-of-23 to Miami’s 8-of-11.

Okogie converted 9-of-12, and Miami head coach Jim Larranaga wasn’t happy about that or much of anything else.

“I would say that’s pretty lopsided,” he said of the free throw margin. “[Okogie] had 30 points. We did a hell of a job on him. He’s averaging 18 a game, and our whole focus was to stop him and Lammers, and we didn’t do either.”

Lammers put together a solid, if unspectacular, night with eight points, eight rebounds, three steals, two blocks and two assists. Best of all, he served as a frequent deterrent near the rim.

And at the other end of the floor, he and the Jackets were at their best near the rim, winning a game by 10 points despite making 1-of-10 three-point shots.

Tech matched Miami with 34 points in the paint, and won with aggressive defense and an aggressive offense that created disparity at the free throw line.

Saturday night, the Jackets will try to move back above .500 when they play Yale at 7 p.m., and with students back on campus McCamish Pavilion figures to be even more lively as Tech prepares to avenge last Saturday’s loss at Notre Dame when the Irish visit.

“I can see that we’re getting better,” Pastner said. “We just needed a win to show it, a good win against a good team like Miami, and so that was good for us and for our confidence.”