Falling into a 13-point hole in the first half, Georgia Tech could not recover and took an 89-84 loss at Pittsburgh on Wednesday night.
Tech (10-5 overall, 0-2 ACC) was behind for virtually the entire game, first getting sliced by Pittsburgh’s offensive execution in the first half and then repeatedly sending the Panthers to the free-throw line in the second half. No. 24 Pittsburgh (13-1, 2-0) won its ninth game in a row.
The Jackets permitted one of the most efficient offenses in the country to shoot as accurately as it had against a presumably weaker non-conference schedule (49.2 percent Wednesday, compared to 50.5 percent against non-conference opposition) and get to the free-throw line more times (3o free throws after averaging 24.9 free throws in non-conference play).
“You go on the road in this league, you’ve got to play better than we’ve played,” Tech coach Brian Gregory said.
Tech guard Adam Smith piled up a career-high 30 points with eight 3-pointers. Forward Charles Mitchell had one of the best games of his career with 20 points and 17 rebounds.
“We’ve dramatically improved on offense,” Gregory said. “Now, we’ve got to tighten it up on the defensive end.”
Tech will have another tough matchup as it looks for its first ACC win on Saturday at McCamish Pavilion. The Jackets will play No. 4 Virginia, which routed them 57-28 last season.
1. Rough first half
Tech was fortunate to be down only 42-36 at the half. Pittsburgh shot a scalding 62.1 percent in the half, finding open shots with such ease that Gregory switched to a zone defense in search of a solution to slow the Panthers. The Jackets’ defense was complicit in Pitt’s efficiency, as they didn’t do enough to challenge Pitt point guard James Robinson, allowing him space to get seven assists with no turnovers before the half. Tech’s strength on the offensive glass (nine second-chance points to Pitt’s two) kept the Jackets in the game.
“We were stagnant on defense (in the first half),” Mitchell said. “We gave them a lot of drives, a lot of transition points and open threes.”
2. When the game was won
Tech had a five-point trip (Georges-Hunt basket and bonus foul, which was missed, rebounded and 3-pointer by Travis Jorgenson) to cut the lead to 53-52 with 13:19 to play. The Jackets squandered the next two possessions with turnovers (Mitchell in the post, Jorgenson on the break) and were never that close again. The Jackets, in fact, scored two points over the seven possessions after the five-point possession, by which point they were down 63-54.
“It seemed like we were trying to play too fast instead of just settling down,” Georges-Hunt said.
3. Looking for No. 4
For the second consecutive game, Tech had strong offensive games from Mitchell, Georges-Hunt and Smith (a combined 64 points on 25-for-48 shooting). However, the Jackets couldn’t get a fourth player into double figures. Forward Nick Jacobs was next with eight points but needed 10 shots to get them. Not having a consistent No. 4 scoring option is the kind of problem Gregory would have loved to have in his first four years, when he was often looking for a consistent No. 2 scorer, but it’s been a shortcoming nonetheless in the first two ACC games.
“We’re going to have to ride those three guys, (Smith, Mitchell) and Marcus, but we’ve got some other guys that we need to play better for us,” Gregory said.
4. Outdone at line
Tech had considerable success getting to the line in its 13 non-conference games, but part of its downfall Wednesday night, as was the case in the loss to North Carolina this past Saturday, was not being able to defend without fouling. The Panthers were in the bonus at the 10:16 mark of the second half and shot 24 free throws in the half. The nation’s leader in free-throw percentage made 22 of them, generating 47 percent of the Panthers’ second-half points.
Tech, meanwhile, was 3-for-9 from the free-throw line in the second half, including the front end of at least two one-and-ones.
Against North Carolina, the Tar Heels shot 29 free throws (making 24) to Tech’s 19 (with 15 makes).
“It seems like everybody’s aggressive to score (on Pitt’s team),” Georges-Hunt said, explaining the difficulty in defending the Panthers without fouling. “They just don’t have that go-to guy. Everybody’s a threat, in a way.”
5. Smith stays hot
Smith continues to be an offensive force for the Jackets. He led Tech with 30 points with 8-for-13 shooting from 3-point range. He hit from long distance on back-to-back possessions with less than four minutes to play to keep the Jackets in the game, the second cutting the lead to 78-69 with 3:02 to play, and dropped another at the 1:20 mark to cut the lead to 83-77. He scored 11 points in the final 3:44.
It followed a 20-point game with six 3-pointers against the Tar Heels.
“I felt good, just trying to keep my team in the game. That’s the most important thing,” Smith said. “Kind of like Chuck said, I’m not a huge fan of the numbers. When you’re losing, they don’t mean as much.”