THE FLATS - Georgia Tech opens Atlantic Coast Conference play on the road for the fourth time in five years Saturday when the Yellow Jackets visit Notre Dame for a 2 p.m. nationally-televised contest at Purcell Pavilion in South Bend, Ind.
The Yellow Jackets (6-6) enters conference play having lost five of its last seven games, but put together some of its best basketball of late in the second half of Wednesday night's 76-62 victory over Coppin State. Tech is 1-3 against power conference teams this season, having defeated Northwestern on Nov. 28. The Jackets are in their second season under head coach Josh Pastner, the 2017 ACC Coach of the Year, after going 21-16 and reaching the championship game of the NIT last season.
Notre Dame (10-3), which began the season ranked No. 14 and won its first six games, has not played since an 86-50 victory over Southeastern Louisiana on Dec. 21. The Fighting Irish have played a pair of top 10 teams, defeating No. 6 Wichita State and losing to No. 3 Michigan State. The Irish won 26 games and advanced to the second round of the NCAA Tournament last season.
Saturday's game will be televised nationally on ESPNU, and will be streamed live on through the ESPN app. Radio coverage is provided by the Georgia Tech IMG Sports Network and can be heard in Atlanta on flagship station 680 the Fan (680 AM/93.7 FM). The broadcast can also be heard nationally on SiriusXM satellite radio (Sirius ch. 138, XM ch. 202).
THE STARTING LINEUP
Georgia Tech is opening ACC play on the road for the fourth time in five years. The Yellow Jackets hosted North Carolina to open conference play last season after traveling three straight years. Tech plays three of its next four ACC games, and four of its next five overall, at home after Saturday.
Tech was projected to finish ninth in the ACC in the preseason voting by conference media. The Jackets finished 11th last season at 8-10.
Deja vu? - Tech enters ACC play on the heels of a tightly contested victory over a team from the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference for the second year in a row. The Jackets needed a 25-8 finish to dispatch winless Coppin State, 76-62, Wednesday night. Last season, Tech came from behind to defeat North Carolina A&T, 59-52, then upset eventual national champion North Carolina at home to open conference play.
Tech has yet to play a game with its entire roster healthy and available. The Yellow Jackets played their first eight games without its leading scorer and ACC All-Freshman player from last season, Josh Okogie. They played without senior guard Tadric Jackson for the first three games; without sophomore point guard Justin Moore for three games; and have been without freshman guard Curtis Haywood II for the last four games. Tech players have missed 19 games to various injuries this season.
Five Atlantic Coast Conference teams are currently ranked in the Associated Press poll - Duke (4), Virginia (9), North Carolina (13), Miami (15) and Florida State (24). Notre Dame was a top 25 team until right before the holiday break, but still is receiving votes along with Clemson, Louisville, Syracuse and Virginia Tech. The Jackets have already faced UCLA (No. 21 in preseason) and Northwestern (No. 20 in preseason), as well as Tennessee, which is now No. 19.
Head coach Josh Pastner needs six victories to reach 200 for his head coaching career. In nine-plus seasons, Pastner has a record of 194-95.
Notre Dame associate head coach Rod Balanis faces his alma mater for the ninth time on Saturday afternoon. Balanis played for former Georgia Tech head coach Bobby Cremins from 1990-94, making four appearances in the NCAA tournament, two Sweet 16 berths and a spot in the 1990 Final Four. Balanis was a member of the ACC Academic Honor Roll and graduated with honors (management) from Georgia Tech in 1993 and has been a member of the Irish coaching staff since Mike Brey's arrival on campus for the 2000-01 season.
— GT Men's Basketball (@GTMBB) December 30, 2017
SERIES VS. NOTRE DAME
Georgia Tech holds a 9-7 lead in the all-time series with Notre Dame that began in the 1940-41 season. Tech has won two of the last three meetings, both wins coming on last-second baskets at McCamish Pavilion (62-60 last season, 63-62 in 2015-16).
Notre Dame has won all four meetings at South Bend since the Fighting Irish became a member of the Atlantic Coast Conference, including last season's 64-60 decision.
The average margin of victory in the eight meetings since the Irish joined the ACC is 4.1 points. Notre Dame's 72-64 win in South Bend on Jan. 13, 2016, is the widest.
The Yellow Jackets won five straight meetings between the two teams from 1972 through Tech's 74-69 victory in McCamish Pavilion on Jan. 11, 2014, the team's first meeting as ACC foes.
All but one game in the series has been played on the two campuses, the exception being a 2007 meeting in the third-place game of the Paradise Jam. The Yellow Jackets erased a 9-point deficit in the final 5:11 and won the game on a three-point basket by Matt Causey with two seconds remaining.
Tech is 2-6 in games played in South Bend, and 1-5 in Purcell Pavilion, including an 88-80 overtime win on Feb. 24, 1990, with the Jackets headed toward an ACC title and Final Four berth later that season. That game and a 90-80 Tech victory in Atlanta a year earlier were the only two face-offs ever between legendary coaches Bobby Cremins and Digger Phelps.
Four of the five meetings before that were played with Whack Hyder as Tech's head coach, and the Jackets won three of those, including an 82-62 win in 1972 at Alexander Memorial Coliseum in Phelps' first season as the Fighting Irish head coach.
Head coach Josh Pastner used his fifth different starting lineup this season against Coppin State, inserting Brandon Alston back into the starting five in place of Tadric Jackson, joined by Jose Alvarado, Josh Okogie, Moses Wright and Ben Lammers. Jackson had started the last six games, and Alston made his first start since Nov. 28 vs. Northwestern and his sixth start of the season. Tech had started the same five, with Jackson instead of Alston, since Okogie's return on Dec. 17.
Curtis Haywood II, who had started seven straight games, sat out for the fourth consecutive game with a shin injury. Post players Abdoulaye Gueye and Sylvester Ogbonda did not suit up due to ankle injuries, and Justin Moore is not with the team due to a death in the family. Injuries have forced Tech players to miss 19 games cumulatively this season, and the Jackets have yet to play a game with all 11 scholarship players healthy.
Alvarado and Lammers have started every game this season. Lammers has started Tech's last 49 consecutive games.
Tech trailed by as many as six points to Coppin State and trailed for 19 minutes and 22 seconds altogether, then finished the game by outscoring the Eagles 25-8 over the final 9:51. The Jackets were behind 38-34 with 18:30 remaining when freshman point guard Jose Alvarado left the game with a head injury. Without Alvarado, Tech forged three ties before taking the lead for good at 55-54 with 8:55 remaining.
Tech has averaged 73.8 points and converted 47.3 percent of their field goal attempts in the four games since Josh Okogie's return.
Tech continues to make life tough for opponents inside the three-point arc. The Jackets rank No. 17 nationally according to Kenpom.com in lowest two-point field goal percentage yield (now 42.6 percent after Coppin State went 12-for-34).
Tech has connected on just nine threes in 37 attempts in its last three games against Georgia, Wright State and Coppin State. The Yellow Jackets had made 37.4 percent of its three-point field goals and averaged 6.0 per game (43-for-115) over the seven games prior to that.
The Jackets' turnovers are down (13.3 from 14.8) from last season, and they are giving up three fewer points per game off turnovers. Tech committed a season-low six turnovers against Coppin State, matching its total from the North Texas game, but only forced four from the Eagles.
Tech outscored Coppin State 40-18 in the paint and enjoyed a season-high plus-17 advantage in rebounding (41-24). The Jackets also took 11 offensive rebounds and scored a season-high 16 second-chance points.
Tech is giving up more than four fewer second-chance points per game this season (8.8 from 12.9), and have reduced offensive rebounds given up by about one and a half.
Tech ranks 37th nationally in fewest personal fouls per game. The Yellow Jackets committed only seven fouls against Coppin State (none in the first half), the fewest for Tech since fouling seven times against Miami on Jan 4, 2012. The last time the Jackets committed fewer was Jan. 3, 2007 against Winston-Salem State (5). It was the 22nd time dating back to the 1987-88 season that Tech had committed fewer than 10 fouls in a game.
Tech nearly set a school record for most free throws in a game without a miss, converting on its first 20 attempts against Coppin State. But Brandon Alston, an 82.4-percent marksman, missed the front end of a one-and-one in the final minute to leave the Yellow Jackets 20-for-21 from the line. The Jackets improved to 72.4 percent for the season, which ranks seventh in the ACC.
Tech has scored 24.4 percent of its points from the free throw line this season, which ranks No. 8 in the nation according to Kenpom.com. The Jackets also rank 24th according to Kenpom in ratio of free throw attempts to field goal attempts (42.8).
Pastner meter 1 (assists to made field goals): Tech assisted on just 12 of 26 field goals made and 26 of 77 in its last three games (33.8 percent), falling short its nightly goal of 60 percent for the third time this season. The Jackets have assisted on 56.5 percent of their made field goals for the season, after finishing last season at 62.7 percent (63.2 percent rate in ACC games).
Pastner meter 2 (free throws made to opponents' attempts): Tech made 20-of-21 free throws to Coppin State's 2-of-3 (goal of making more than opponent tries not accomplished). For the season, Tech has converted 197 free throws, while opponents have attempted 193. Tech is 26-7 under Josh Pastner when attempting more free throws than the opponent.
Pastner meter 3 (guard rebounding): Tech's guards combined for 16 of Tech's 30 defensive rebounds. Alvarado, Jackson and Okogie are all averaging well above four rebounds per game.
Ben Lammers has recorded four double-doubles this season, including one in each of Tech's last two games (22 points and 11 rebounds vs. Coppin State, 10/10 vs. Wright State). He has accumulated 20 double-doubles since the beginning of last season. Lammers went 9-of-16 from the floor and made all four of his free throws (82.1 percent for the season) against Coppin State, also adding three assists in 38 minutes.
Lammers blocked six shots against Coppin State to give him 212 blocks for his career, sitting in sole possession of fourth place in Tech history and needing 31 to catch John Salley (243 from 1982-86) for third place. Lammers is third in the ACC and 12th nationally in blocked shots per game (3.0).
Lammers' 82.1-percent clip from the free throw line is nearly nine percent better than his junior year (73.7 percent). Lammers was a combined 21-of-43 his first two seasons.
Tadric Jackson, who did not start for the first time since Nov. 28 vs. Northwestern, has scored in double digits in each game since returning to the court, and had 17 against Coppin State. It was his 31st double-digit game off the bench as a Yellow Jacket, 22 of those since the beginning of last season. The senior guard has reached double figures 18 times in his last 20 games and 32 times overall since the beginning of last season.
Jackson went 6-of-10 from the floor against Coppin State, and is hitting 62.5 percent of his shots (50-of-80) from inside the three-point arc this season, 51.8 percent overall.
Josh Okogie has averaged 18.5 points per game in his four games back on the court, reaching double digits in every one, though he scored a season-low 13 against Coppin State. The 6-4 sophomore has hit 41.2 percent of his shots from the floor, 5-of-12 from three-point range and 27-of-33 (81.8 percent) from the free throw line. Okogie has scored in double figures 36 times in 41 career games. He has scored 20 or more 11 times.
Brandon Alston reached double figures (10 points vs. Coppin State) for the first time since scoring 20 against Texas-Rio Grande Valley in the third game of the season. Alston scored in double figures in Tech's first three games this season, but had totaled 26 points in the eight games in between. The 6-5 graduate transfer also had four assists and just one turnover in a season-high 38 minutes, being forced to play point guard for most of the final 18:30 after freshman Jose Alvarado left the game with an injury.
Jackson surpassed 900 career points with his performance against Coppin State and has 912 currently. At his current career-best average of 15.9 points per game, it will take him six more games to become the 44th Georgia Tech player to reach 1,000. Lammers has 836 career points, and would need 13 games at his current 13.0 per game rate to reach 1,000.
ABOUT GEORGIA TECH MEN'S BASKETBALL
Georgia Tech's men's basketball team is in its second year under head coach Josh Pastner. Tech has been a member of the Atlantic Coast Conference since 1979, won three ACC Championships (1985, 1990, 1993), played in the NCAA Tournament 16 times and played in two Final Fours (1990, 2004). Connect with Georgia Tech Men's Basketball on social media by liking their Facebook Page, or following on Twitter (@GTMBB) and Instagram.