Hoping to carry the momentum from its upset win over then-No. 4 Virginia, Georgia Tech fell short on a cold night in Indiana.
Controlled in the post by Notre Dame, the Yellow Jackets fell 72-64 to the Fighting Irish Wednesday night at Purcell Pavilion. Tech’s big men – Charles Mitchell, James White, Nick Jacobs and Ben Lammers – scored a combined 20 points on 9-for-25 shooting, a dismal figure for players shooting close to the basket.
On the other end, Irish forward Zach Auguste devoured Tech with 24 points, many scored on uncontested screen-and-rolls to the basket.
“Give them credit,” coach Brian Gregory said. “They were more aggressive on their drives, they were more aggressive in the post and more aggressive in terms of attacking the basket and we didn’t respond to that the way that we need to respond, especially on the road.”
Tech (11-6 overall, 1-3 ACC) was led in scoring with 18 from guard Marcus Georges-Hunt. The Jackets will play Virginia Tech Saturday at home. Notre Dame (11-5, 2-2) was lifted by guard Demetrius Jackson’s 18 points, nine rebounds and eight assists.
“We let one get away,” said Georges-Hunt, clearly down. “I feel like we beat ourselves.”
Cold in first half
Tech did not carry its effective offense into South Bend, scoring 27 points in the first half, about 10 points below its season average. While Notre Dame did well to limit guard Adam Smith from 3-point range by guarding him with size and also defended the post well, the Jackets missed a series of open shots. Both Georges-Hunt and Quinton Stephens shot airballs from 3-point range. The Jackets were 1-for-8 from 3-point range in the first half, equaling the number of misses they had in the entire game against Virginia (8-for-15).
The good news for Tech was that Notre Dame was nearly as errant. While Tech was 9-for-36 in the half (25 percent), Notre Dame was 10-for-31 (32.3 percent).
“You can’t get off to a slow start in these ACC games because, for the most part, you’ll be trailing the whole game, and it’ll be hard to get back in front because all the teams in this league are good,” Georges-Hunt said.
Auguste plays big
Auguste, the Notre Dame forward whom Gregory said earlier this week was “as good as any big guy in the league,” lived up the billing. He ran the floor to score in transition and, working with point guard Demetrius Jackson to hammer the Jackets on pick-and-rolls and slips to the basket for easy baskets.
His 24 points, 15 after halftime, were a season high.
His line was impressive: 24 points on 10-for-13 shooting, nine rebounds and two blocks, including an emphatic rejection in the final seconds.
Along with Notre Dame forward Matt Ryan, he was also effective defensively, as well, challenging shots and keeping Tech’s big men from going strong to the basket.
Smith cools off
After a torrid run, Smith was slowed down Wednesday night. Smith had made 29 of 53 3-pointers in the past six games and still scored 15 points with four 3-pointers on 11 attempts Wednesday, but couldn’t deliver enough critical baskets. Smith was defended most of the night by guard Steve Vasturia, who at 6-foot-5 had four inches on Smith and employed it well. Vasturia also did well chasing Smith through screens to prevent open looks.
As a whole, Tech struggled beyond the 3-point arc. The Jackets came into the game making 38.5 percent of their 3-pointers, including an even half in their first three ACC games, but were off the mark Wednesday. They were 5-for-19 against Notre Dame, 26.3 percent.
“We (shot the 3-pointer well) on Saturday (against Virginia), we did at Carolina and we did second half at Pitt, but we just weren’t able to put them in (Wednesday),” Gregory said. “And maybe you need to drive the ball and create something else, but we weren’t able to do that, either.”
Stephens, who delivered Tech against Virginia with 4-for-4 shooting against Virginia, was 0-for-3 from 3-point range and finished with two points, though he added five rebounds, three offensive. Georges-Hunt was also 0-for-3 from 3-point range.
When the game was won
After the cold first half, Tech scored 15 points in its first 10 possessions, with Jacobs scoring six of them. However, Notre Dame did even better, scoring 17 points in the same 10 possessions to nudge its 30-27 halftime lead to 47-42. It was the best offensive punch that Tech threw all night, but Notre Dame fended it off. The Jackets stayed in the hunt the rest of the night and were down 61-58 with the ball with 2:58 left, but didn’t get closer than three the entire second half.
With the failure to hit a critical basket or make a key stop in the second half, “now you’re always fighting uphill,” Gregory said.
Short at the line
On a night in which the offense wasn’t providing much margin, the Jackets didn’t help themselves at the free-throw line. They were 11-for-17 while Notre Dame was 28-for-32. Through four ACC games, Tech’s opponents have shot 123 free throws while Tech has attempted 69.
“That goes both to our defensive intensity, where we have to defend without fouling, but also on the offense, being more aggressive and drawing some fouls and us getting to the free-throw line,” Gregory said.