Georgia Tech did enough to challenge No. 21 Notre Dame on Sunday night. But the Yellow Jackets made enough mistakes to cost themselves an upset.
Tech fell 64-60 in a game it trailed for the final 28:56. While Tech shot a respectable 44.8 percent from the field, coach Josh Pastner agonized over a bundle of possessions squandered with turnovers and missed layups, two familiar pitfalls this season.
“When we miss those layups, it’s literally days, maybe years off my life because it just eats at me,” he said. “Because I know, every possession, we can’t afford to miss those layups.”
The Yellow Jackets (16-13 overall, 7-9 ACC) have surrendered just about all wiggle room to make their case for the NCAA tournament selection committee. The Jackets had the opportunity for a road win over a RPI top-25 team and improve their RPI ranking (96 going into the game) by perhaps 15 slots.
With the loss, Tech probably can’t afford another defeat in its final two regular-season games, Tuesday at home against Pittsburgh in a quick turnaround and Saturday at Syracuse.
According to CBS Sports bracketologist Jerry Palm, in the 23 years that he has tracked tournament selections, only seven teams have earned at-large bids with 14 losses (which Tech would take with an ACC tournament loss). None have made it with 15.
Notre Dame (22-7, 11-5) was led by forward Bonzie Colson’s 20 points, a total that included a 3-for-3 effort from 3-point range as he drew center Ben Lammers away from the basket.
Where the game was lost
With Notre Dame ahead 52-48 with under four minutes to play, Lammers blocked a Colson shot, his fourth block of the game. By gaining possession, the Jackets could have cut the score to two or one after trailing by as many as eight earlier in the half.
However, the Jackets were not able to secure the ball and, with the shot clock about to expire, Notre Dame guard Matt Farrell scrambled to win the loose ball in the corner and then threw up a desperation jump shot falling away from the basket. The shot was true for a six-point lead. After Lammers missed a quick jumper at the other end, Notre Dame guard Steve Vasturia scored on a reverse at the 3:01 mark for a 56-48 lead that put the game out of reach.
Like Lammers, Farrell is a candidate for most improved player in the ACC. He finished with 17 points.
Notre Dame coach Mike Brey: “I give Matt Farrell a lot of credit. Foul trouble, not in a great rhythm, but the guy just kind of finds a way.”
Okogie hot, then cools off
Guard Josh Okogie came out of the blocks searing, playing aggressively on the glass and finding opportunities in transition. Attacking the basket, Okogie took seven of Tech’s first 10 shots, making four of them for nine points, to help lift the Jackets to a 13-9 lead at the 14:23 mark. It proved to be Tech’s largest lead of the game.
The freshman scored just two baskets the rest of the game, finishing with 14 on 6-for-16 shooting. He missed a number of makeable drives and layup attempts.
“Just mental lapses,” said Okogie, who had 10 rebounds for the third double-double of his career. “Just got to focus in and execute those. Those were definitely on me.”
Tech was led by guard Tadric Jackson, who scored 16 of his team-high 20 points in the second half, taking shots when teammates seemed a little gun-shy to put the ball up.
Rough night for Stephens
Forward Quinton Stephens was not effective, compiling two points on 1-for-5 shooting, four rebounds and three turnovers before fouling out with 1:24 to play. It was his first disqualification since early last season. He scored his only basket at the 11:04 mark of the second half.
He was involved in a pivotal play of the game two minutes later. With Notre Dame leading 48-42, Stephens tipped in a miss by Lammers but was called for a questionable foul on the play, wiping out the basket and sending him to the bench with his fourth foul.
Said Pastner, “Quinton did not play well and when he doesn’t play well, he’s one of the guys, if they don’t play well, it makes it really, really hard because of our limitations in some areas.”
Defended well enough to win
Tech defended Notre Dame with typical fortitude. The Irish shot 35.1 percent from the field, their lowest mark of the season and well below their ACC average of 45.4 percent. With Lammers protecting the paint – Notre Dame shot 10-for-28 (35.7 percent) inside the arc – more than half of the Irish field-goal attempts were 3-point tries. Brey pronounced Lammers the best rim protector in the ACC.
“I probably didn’t spent enough time emphasizing (Colson’s) 3-point shooting,” Pastner said. “We really guarded everyone else, I thought, pretty well.”
The Jackets cost themselves dearly with 14 turnovers, a fifth of their possessions. Notre Dame, which excels at controlling the ball, turned it over just eight times. Several of Tech’s turnovers came on entry passes into the post that were well defended or poorly executed or both.
Notre Dame won the points off turnovers category 11-4.