Mike Brey's assessment of Tech's NCAA tournament chances
and a breakdown of Josh Okogie's game-winning basket
Notre Dame's effective field-goal percentage in ACC games before Saturday was 52.5 percent. Further, its defensive field-goal percentage was 49.7 percent. That is to say, the Yellow Jackets in large part played better against Notre Dame than most opponents at both ends of the floor. Tech's major flaw was its 15 turnovers. The turnover percentage was the highest of any of its nine ACC games. Notre Dame turned the turnovers into 17 points.
Conversely, though, Tech took possession of 11 Irish turnovers and scored 18 points, an especially high yield.
Related to Notre Dame's effective field-goal percentage was Tech's seven blocks on 57 field-goal tries, a very dominating 12.3 percent. Tech ranks fifth in the country in block percentage at 10.7 percent, according to teamrankings.com.
*Four factors follows the idea that the four statistics that most lead to success are effective field-goal percentage (which weights 3-point baskets proportionately), turnover percentage, offensive rebounding percentage and free throws per field-goal attempts.
I thought the Jackets were in real trouble midway through the first half. They were down 19-9, and Notre Dame was having a lot of success running its offense and scoring points. After 13 possessions, the Irish had scored 19 points and were 3-for-3 from 3-point range. I’ve said this before, but a number of teams have had real trouble making 3-pointers despite having open looks at the basket (Virginia, Virginia Tech, Florida State and Clemson among them).
It looked like Notre Dame was going to finally make Tech pay for its practice of honing on the ball when it’s inside the arc. But then guard Josh Heath came up with steals on consecutive possessions. Guard Tadric Jackson, in for Josh Okogie after he had picked up his second foul, rattled in a 3-ball from the corner. At 21-14, center Ben Lammers came up with a steal and then Jackson finished at the rim to cut the lead to 21-16.
A few possessions later, forward Quinton Stephens pinned Irish forward Matt Ryan’s layup against the glass and then helped keep possession of a loose ball by passing it through his legs to a trailing teammate. The possession finished with Lammers throwing an over-the-shoulder backdoor pass to Jackson, who caught it with one hand and laid it in. Tech eventually took the lead and was even up by eight before the half. This against the No. 14 team in the country. Notre Dame averaged 1.46 points per possession on the first 13 possessions of the half and then .387 over the final 31. The Irish finished the game at .938, which is phenomenal defense, particularly against Notre Dame.
“It was hard for us to get into an offensive rhythm because you couldn’t get anything around the basket because of Lammers and Stephens,” Notre Dame coach Mike Brey said. “Their shot blocking really changes the game. The guards that (Josh Pastner) plays can all play defense, and then you’ve got the shot blockers in the back. We worked like heck to get 60 points today.”
Saturday’s game was a memorable afternoon for all those who witnessed it. A lot of things went into Tech’s victory. Okogie’s buzzer-beater was a gem of a play. But what they showed in the final 11:47 of the first half, after Notre Dame had taken control of the game, is a lot of what makes me think the Jackets can continue this run. They’re not getting lucky. They’re bringing tough defense to the court every game and, Saturday, when they could have buckled against a team with a superior offense, they responded.
“To be down what we were down, and then fight back to be able to get the lead against that type of team in the first half, it says a lot about our guys,” Pastner said.
Tech has questions to answer about its play on the road – the Jackets are 1-3 away from home in the ACC thus far – and faces Clemson and Wake Forest in away games. But there’s fewer reasons to be skeptical about what this team can do, in no small part because of what it showed in the first half, toughness and defense.
Quote of the game
“First of all, Coach (Bobby) Cremins, what he’s done here – his name’s on the court – the success that he’s had here, I mean everybody knows that. I don’t need to rehash that. What I would tell you is he guy is such a good guy and such a nice man. He text messages me: ‘Coach, do you mind, do you think it’d be O.K. if I came to practice? Coach, do you mind if you could get me two tickets to a game? Or, who’s your secretary, who’s your assistant? I’ll call. I’m like, Coach Cremins, your name is on the court. If you want to come be the head coach and I’ll slide over and be the assistant coach, I’ll do it. Your name’s on the court. You invented the Thrillerdome.” – Pastner on why he was trying to call Cremins down from the stands after the game. It reflects well on Pastner that he thought to do this, and Pastner’s sentiment about Cremins is exactly what makes him so beloved.
It’s funny and perhaps telling that Lammers had his 11th double-double (15 points, 10 rebounds), played all 40 minutes for the first time in his career, blocked three shots and had three assists and, aside from Brey’s comments, he was barely mentioned in the post-game news conferences.
“He’s really a gifted, gifted young man. What did he have? Three blocks? It felt like he had 10 blocks. He changed another 10 (shots). He’s a gifted player. He’s good with the ball on the perimeter, he’s a good passer, he defends, he offensive rebounds. That killed us in the first half.”
Guards Corey Heyward and Josh Heath played a combined 77 minutes and turned the ball over three times. Heyward gave Notre Dame guard Steve Vasturia a hard time and Heath was superb running the offense, handling the ball with such confidence.
Stephens scored only five, but had 13 offensive rebounds to match his career high. In the past four games, he has had 13, 13, five and 13 rebounds. He also had three blocks, also tying his career high.
Jackson filled the gap left by Okogie with 25 points in 26 minutes on 11-for-19 shooting.
“Obviously, Jackson was fabulous, and we had no answer for him,” Brey said.
Lastly, it's my understanding that a student broke a thumb or finger banging a metal chair trying to make noise during the game. That's devotion. Or possibly poor coordination. But commendable all the same.
Stat of the game
I recognize that points per game is not a tempo-free stat, but what the Jackets have done defensively against their nine ACC opponents bears recognition. (Averages are from before Saturday's games)
Not bad work.
From my iPhone
Cremins and Pastner sharing a moment after the annual Tech basketball alumni game following the Notre Dame game. That’s Tech football great Lucius Sanford on the edge of the frame and team dentist Dr. Aaron King in the background with the navy warm-up jacket. Dr. King has volunteered with the football and basketball teams since the Bobby Dodd days. That's a lot of history in one picture frame. I confess I don't know the gentleman behind Pastner.
On a personal note
This was a fun game to cover and to watch in person. It’s hard to really get a grip on what is actually happening before our eyes. As stated before, this is not at all how I thought this season would play out.