By Matt Winkeljohn | The Good Word
- Were Wednesday night's game played on Broadway, Georgia Tech would've fit right on stage where Notre Dame would've been a prototypical understudy.
The Yellow Jackets (9-7, ACC), after all, brought the juice, supplying most of the energy that set McCamish Pavilion to tingle. The Fighting Irish (13-4, 3-1) were there, but their two leading scorers were not.
No snapshot moments better captured the vibe of Tech's 60-53 win than Jose Alvarado dancing, or whatever he was doing, at the end of the first half and again near the end of the Jackets' third consecutive victory.
As the Jackets closed the first half with an electrifying 13-0 run for a 30-20 lead, the perpetually persistent freshman point guard from Brooklyn broke out the jig. He circled center court with his back to it while hopping up and down, flapping his arms and motioning for fans to raise the roof.
— Georgia Tech Sports (@GTAthletics) January 12, 2018
Alvarado looked like an excited young man doing jumping jacks on a merry-go-round. And McCamish roared.
"I just want to really give a great shout-out to our crowd and our student section," said head coach Josh Pastner. "I was really proud for our fans and for our students. Overall, I thought we played with really good energy, which, again, the crowd was really good for that."
The evolution of the Jackets is ongoing, and man, it looks energized.
Should they more often push the pace like they did at times Wednesday, when they outscored Notre Dame 15-4 in fast break points, they'll sprout legs all the faster, oozing more quickly from the primordial ooze in which they spent the non-conference season while sacked with suspensions and injuries.
This team has rarely played at a breakneck pace because Pastner said Tech's offensive limitations mandate, "that sometimes we have to muck it up."
At times, the Jackets looked like Showtime.
-- ACC Digital Network (@theACCDN) January 11, 2018
The wrenched right ankle of senior center Ben Lammers is finally not barking. Sophomore Josh Okogie keeps adding rhythm after missing the first eight games because of an NCAA suspension and a dislocated finger. Freshman guard Curtis Haywood II, a starter before he missed seven games with a shin injury, played 20 minutes. With all players intact, Pastner has been able to deploy players as he sees fit, paring his rotation to seven players Wednesday, when Alvarado and Lammers played every second of the game, and Okogie played 39-plus of the 40.
The coach also credits the recent ability -- thanks to school being out of session -- to practice twice a day on a few occasions. Tech played more man-to-man defense than usual, a tip to the fact that the Irish hit 39 percent from beyond the arc. Notre Dame missed all nine 3-pointers in the first half.
Mike Brey, the winningest head coach in Notre Dame history, noticed change in the Jackets vs. the version his team beat 68-59 on Dec. 30.
"They're so much different than the team we played 10 days ago," Brey said. "They're healthy, they're moving better."
Yet the Jackets are indeed moving better, and doing more of what they need to do in games.
In their loss at Notre Dame, the defense sagged in the second half and a 28-23 halftime lead slipped away like a fish from its catcher's hands. Tech also was whipped on the offensive glass in that game.
Then, the Irish had 13 offensive rebounds -- roughly one third of their missed shots -- to create additional scoring opportunities, and they outscored Tech 16-0 on second-chance points.
Wednesday, Notre Dame had nine -- roughly one fifth of their misses -- and Tech won the battle of second-chance points 14-10.
That was assignment basketball.
Lammers, plucked eight of his 10 rebounds on the defensive end, and senior guard Tadric Jackson grabbed eight on the same end of the floor while tying his career high with nine caroms overall.
"That was basically our entire game plan," Lammers said of the Jackets walling off Notre Dame when the Irish shot. "They've done a great job offensive rebounding the last two games. We knew for us to do well, we had to limit that. We accepted that challenge."
Bonzie Colson and Matt Farrell make Notre Dame better, but they didn't play. Colson, a preseason All-America pick at center, missed his third straight game with a broken foot. The 22 points and 17 rebounds he laid on Tech last month were not available. Farrell, the senior guard who averages 15.9 points to Colson's 21.4, missed his second straight game with an ankle sprain.
The Jackets felt no sympathy. They've had a few dozen games missed by injured or suspended players, and Lammers played lame for more than a month. First, Ben chuckled at the reminder, and then said, "It's kind of a nice change of pace."
Notre Dame made more than a run. The Irish took a 38-37 lead on Martinas Geben's layup with 11:16 left in the game, as the Jackets were plagued by a stretch that included two turnovers by Alvarado and 1-of-5 shooting overall.
A 15-5 run over four minutes pushed Tech to a nine-point lead, and in it, Jackson scored seven of his 11 points. That included a 3-pointer from the right corner where Alvarado tore down the center on break and fired a pass.
Jackson was open, so open that he ignored Pastner's recent pleas to not shoot from beyond the arc because, well, Tadric and Okogie are Tech's best players at attacking the rim, and Jackson brought a 22.9 percent mark from distance to the game.
Swish! Tech led 52-43 with 7:18 to go.
Tech's second-leading scorer gave the Jackets a lead so big that the Irish could not overcome.
Tech's making a lot more of the right plays (Pastner was wrong to tell Tadric to never shoot that shot), and they'll try to move to 3-1 in the ACC Saturday at Pitt (8-9, 0-4).
"I think everyone is starting to realize their roles ... no one is playing one-on-one," Lammers said after scoring 10 points, grabbing 10 rebounds, blocking two shots, assisting twice, registering two steals and deflecting reams of passes. "If you're a shooter, you shoot. If you're a driver, you drive."
After playing the Panthers, Tech will play host to No. 3 Virginia (14-1, 3-0) next Thursday in McCamish Pavilion.
Keep in mind that the Jackets are 9-2 in ACC home games under Pastner, with now five wins over ranked teams (Notre Dame is No. 25 in the coaches poll).
New- Georgia Tech Basketball- UVA Game: GT just announced they are cutting ticket prices off the UVA game since it has won 3 straight home games. You can now buy tickets for UVA for $20. https://t.co/3dg95w5uGy #GTBasketball #TogetherWeSwarm
-- GTSwarm.com (@GTSwarm) January 11, 2018