By Jon Cooper | The Good Word
- Last weekend a ‘Nor’easter’ wreaked havoc throughout the New York Metropolitan area.
It’s something to which Georgia Tech men’s basketball can relate, as they’ve seemingly been rained on the entire 2017-18 season.
“Every year there are going to be little things here and there. It’s just that it was like everything hit at once this year,” said head coach Josh Pastner. “It was like back-to-back-to-back-to-back-to-back, including stuff with injuries and everything else. It was a perfect storm in one season. Whereas last year we got every break -- no injuries, the ball bounced our way, the guys that we played against missed shots, we won games. The perfect storm for us was last year. This year it was the perfect storm but the other way.”
Beginning Tuesday at noon, the 13th-seeded Yellow Jackets (13-18, 6-12) want to bring a ‘South’easter’ to Brooklyn’s Barclays Center and cause a little havoc of their own in their New York Life ACC Tournament opener against No. 12 Boston College (17-14, 7-11).
The Jackets believe the cloud that’s seemingly followed them all year has lifted, as evidenced in their back-to-back wins to close the season -- home wins over NC State then Wake Forest, on Senior Day, and hard-fought losses at No. 1 Virginia and No. 15 Clemson. B.C. lost four of five down the stretch.
“Momentum’s important,” said Pastner. “Who wouldn’t want to be going in on wins? But once the ball’s tipped you have to produce on the floor.
“We’ve got to play well,” Pastner said. “They got us up in B.C., earlier in the year at their spot. (Junior guard Jerome) Robinson, (sophomore guard Ky) Bowman, (junior guard Jordan) Chatman, those guys are really good. They’ve got great players, and they’re well-coached.”
“I think it definitely will help us out there because we’ve had a couple of close games we’ve lost and then we finally got over the hump it seems,” said senior center Ben Lammers. “I think we’ll be able to carry that now that we know with this squad what it’s like to win and what we need to do to win. I think we can use that momentum to help us out. We also probably owe Boston College, because we should have won that game and let it go in the second half there.”
In that Feb. 4 game, an 80-72 overtime loss, the Jackets let an early 10-point second half lead slip away before coming back from seven down with 7:20 to play. Tadric Jackson scored eight straight points to help Tech regain the lead, but the Eagles got a game-tying three with 35 seconds remaining, then outscored the Jackets, 11-3, in the extra session, as Bowman scored eight straight points.
Tuesday’s game will be the fourth clash between Georgia Tech and Boston College in the last six years in the first round of the ACC Tournament. B.C. has won two of the three, but the last two were nail-biters -- a three-point Tech win in overtime in 2014, then a one-point heartbreaker the following year. Those two games are consistent with the series, which has seen an even split of the last 20 meetings. Sixteen of the games, including this season’s regular-season tilt, decided by 10 or fewer points, 11 games having a victory margin of four or fewer, with four games needing overtime.
Jackson will be big for the Jackets on Tuesday and all week long, as he has been since taking over at the point on Feb. 21, at Virginia. In those four games, Tadric’s averaged 15.5 points, on 39.6 percent shooting (25-for-63), 37.5 from three (9-for-24) with 3.0 assists. Pastner feels this is the best the senior has played this season.
“I’ve been hard on Tadric, but right now he’s playing at a high level,” said Pastner, who admitted he’d like to see Jackson cut down a little bit on turnovers -- he has 13, six coming in the season finale. “He’s playing at a high level defensively, too. He’s guarding. That’s been most impressive.”
Lammers also is playing some of his best ball. He was named to the ACC All-Defensive Team for the second straight season, and is at about the healthiest he’s been all season, having played through an ankle injury that hindered him offensively and kept him from being the defensive presence that made him last year’s ACC Defensive Player of the Year.
“It made me a step or two slower, which impacts my game a fair amount, because I can’t block a certain shot or make a certain move that I’m usually able to do,” he admitted. “But at the same time you have to learn to play through it, adjust your game as best you can, play with what you’ve got.”
The Jackets have found an identity in playing with what they’ve got. Jackson has found a groove at the point, sophomore Josh Okogie, who was named All-ACC third team, has gotten back on track after an experiment at the point and freshman forwards Evan Cole and Moses Wright, continue to improve in starting roles. Cole and Wright are the third and fourth freshmen to start this season, as point guard Jose Alvarado and forward Curtis Haywood II started until suffering season-ending injuries.
The injury to Alvarado, a Brooklyn native who was lost for the season with an elbow injury suffered in the Feb. 11 loss to Duke, was especially devastating, as it threw the point position and the entire offense into flux, leading to the point experiment of moving Okogie there, which threw him off offensively, leading to Jackson taking over the role.
Pastner is proud of how the team has battled through the adversity.
“We’ve had literally about eight different teams this year. One season we’ve had to adjust so much both on-the-floor injuries, off-the-floor stuff,” he said. “But the guys have stayed together. The way they’ve handled themselves has been like we’re the fourth-ranked team in the country. So that’s our key as we keep moving forward. That shows the strength of our culture.
“If you watched our bench, guys were up there cheering, there was no pouting, even during the losing streak we had in February,” he added. “Our guys have competed, they’ve battled, they’ve fought, they’ve practiced their rear ends off. They’ve handled it. That’s a credit to those guys, to the young men, but it’s also a credit to the culture. I really credit the players, that they really stuck together and they’ve practiced. Every practice we’ve had good practices. The bench, the games, the guys played, they’ve given us everything they have and that’s to me a good sign.”
The Jackets’ side of the bracket also could be a good sign.
Lammers admitted he hadn’t looked past Tuesday, but, once told of the path Tech would face to get to the weekend -- should they advance past B.C., they’d face the No. 5 Wolfpack then No. 4 Clemson, who squeaked by the Jackets, 75-67, on Feb. 24 at Littlejohn, and escaped, 72-70, Jan. 28 at McCamish -- found plenty of incentive.
“(They’re) all teams that we know we can beat and all teams that we probably owe one thing or another,” he said, with a laugh. “So it’s good motivation to win this first game, and hopefully get some payback. Our team is ready to show we still have a little life in us.”
“Obviously, it’s one game at a time,” said Pastner. “Boston College is hard enough for us. I would tell you other teams might say we’re a dangerous team going in. It’s not just our two wins. We should have won at Clemson and then we missed 10 layups at Virginia. The last four games we have played well.”