#TGW: Pushing The Limits
Despite offensive limitations, Jackets finding ways to challenge ACC foes
Josh Pastner knows that before he can get to the Hollywood ending he seeks for his Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets program his team will have to go through the Hollywood beginning.
Pastner referenced the beginning of “Jaws” for Saturday afternoon’s matinee, a 65-50 loss to No. 9 Louisville at McCamish Pavilion, where the Jackets trailed 16-3 after just five minutes but fought back, getting to within three, before the Cardinals pulled away late at the foul line.
His postgame comments kind of borrowed from the same movie, when Sheriff Brody, realizing the daunting challenge ahead, utters, “You’re gonna need a bigger boat.”
“We’ve got to find another scorer,” said Pastner. “Josh O. is putting the ball in the basket, so is Ben. We’ve got to find another scorer. In this league you’ve got to have guys that can score the ball. It’s an offensive-generated league.”
“We’re severely limited offensively, and that’s okay,” he added. “I’ve told our guys there’s nothing wrong with that. That’s who we are. We have to accept that. We have to get better but some guys just have to step up for us.”
Ben Lammers put in a career-high 24 points on 9-for-14 shooting and 6-for-6 from the line, and Josh Okogie added 15 on 5-for-12, 1-for-2 from three and 4-for-6 from the line, but the 1-2 punch just wasn’t enough to keep up with the Cardinals.
It was a frustrating day for the other Jackets, who combined for 11 points on 3-for-24 shooting, 1-of-8 from three-point range, while seeing seven of their shots knocked away and several more altered by the long arms of the Louisville defenders -- the ACC’s top shot-blocking team, top three-point-defending team and second-best field-goal defender.
“I think one of the biggest challenges was their length, because we’re a big driving team,” said Lammers, who bounced back from his season-low nine points against Duke by matching his career-best for field goals. “So I think some guys it wasn’t as much of an issue, but it was definitely kind of daunting just driving in there and seeing a seven-footer, 6-10, 6-10 all of them being able to jump up and block your shot. So I think it was a good experience for us, because we need to learn how to take it to teams and don’t worried about them blocking your shot, just keep on attacking.”
“They were definitely tall and lengthy,” said Okogie, who is averaging 17.3 ppg in his first three ACC contests. “I don’t really think that stopped us from attacking, but they got some blocks and made us kind of alter our shots a little bit. It definitely was a problem.”
Not finding a third option beyond Lammers and Okogie was as big a problem and vexing, as the usual suspects for that role, Tadric Jackson (0-for-10, 0-for-4 from three), the Jackets’ third-leading scorer coming in at 11.3 ppg, Quinton Stephens (0-for-3, 0-for-1), who was next also scoring in double-figures (10.1 ppg) and Josh Heath (0-for-4, 0-for-1), all had frustrating days.
It’s something the Jackets realize they have to overcome.
“Whether it’s Tadric or Q or Josh Heath, if he’s open he’s got to stick it … Justin,” said Pastner. “When you’re open you have to put it in, we can’t afford missed layups, we have to make our free throws. When we’re open for those threes, we just have to have him make it.”
Even with no one but Lammers and Okogie scoring, the Jackets challenged the Cardinals, combining for a 10-0 run over 2:25, cutting a 13-point lead to three. The duo would score 16 straight points for the Jackets, sandwiched between a Jackson layup at 12:29 and a pair of Jackson free throws at 3:28.
Tech’s not making shots hurt but so did not doing better corralling some of those misses. Louisville, which came in ranked second in the ACC in offensive rebounding, held a 16-10 edge on the offensive glass. That led to an 18-12 discrepancy in second-chance points. Three of those offensive rebounds led directly to eight points in a back-breaking stretch that allowed the Cardinals survive the Jackets’ spirited comeback.
The first came immediately after a Lammers slam off an Okogie feed made it 43-40 with 8:40 to go.
Mangok Mathiang missed a jumper but guard Quentin Snider got the rebound and hit a three on the ensuing possession. After Lammers answered with a jumper to get the lead back to four, guard David Levitch extended a possession by tracking down the rebound of a Snider miss. Louisville leading scorer Donovan Mitchell then nailed a three to push the lead to seven. A third offensive rebound, again by Snider, off his own miss led to his making a layup putting the Jackets down 11. Tech’s deficit remained in double figures pretty much the rest of the way.
“That’s eight points right there off of guard rebounding,” Pastner said. “They were right in that 50/50 ball area, right by that elbow area. We didn’t come up with it. That’s unacceptable. It’s a 50/50 ball. It’s just between you and the opponent. You have to get it. I told our guys the teams that win are going to be the teams that have best guard rebounding. Guard rebounding is everything.”
“[Pastner] always preaches guard rebounds. That’s what really helps us win, when our guards are able to rebound,” said Okogie. “So every game it’s coming in with the same mindset of ‘I’ve got to rebound.’ In games like North Carolina, where we had all of our guards doing it, rebounding, it reflected in the result of the game. Today I don’t think we did a really good job as far as all our guards rebounding.”
The Jackets will go back the practice court and prepare for Clemson, whom they’ll face at McCamish on Thursday night. It’ll be their first conference game NOT against a team not ranked in the top 10 -- the Tigers are just receiving votes.
“I feel like we're going to go into Clemson like we go into every other game,” said Okogie. “We're trying to win, take good shots, rebound the ball. I think we’ve been outrebounded the last three games, so we’ve got to get back to rebounding the ball well and controlling the paint.”
The overall feeling is the Jackets will be better for going through this gauntlet.
“We’ll bounce back at it. We’re right there,” said Pastner. “In this three-game stretch, playing three teams that could win the national championship, to come out 1-2 and besides the first five minutes of this game, to have played pretty well for the most part in terms of effort, energy and defensively, I think there’s a lot of build on and we’ll have to just keep working and trying to get better.”
“I think it was a good experience for our entire team to go through,” said Lammers. “Obviously we had two rough losses the past two times but we saw that we can play with Louisville. Duke was just kind of insane. It shows that ranking doesn’t really matter. We can hang with anyone, we can beat any team. We just need to go in there with no fear, just play with high energy and go at it.”