On a day when offensive was a little ugly for both teams – they both shot 39.3 percent from the field, which was Tech’s fifth lowest rate of the ACC season – the Jackets’ effort on the glass played a major role in determining the outcome.
“To get out-rebounded by eight is a big number for us,” Pitt coach Jamie Dixon said. “That’s a strength of ours and something we’ve really been emphasizing, and our numbers have been good lately through the stretch here as we’ve been coming on.”
Forward Nick Jacobs had 12 rebounds, just his third double-figure rebound game of the season. Four of the rebounds were offensive, just one shy of his season high. It is perhaps kind of obvious, but I think the Jackets are a lot better off when Jacobs is that active on the glass. His season average before Saturday was 5.6 rebounds per game.
Handling the outside threat
Tech also won big on Pitt's 3-point shooting. The Panthers were 0-for-11 from 3-point range, the first time a Tech opponent has failed to make a 3-pointer since Jan. 2011 (Maryland). Pitt had enough clear shots at the basket, and the Panthers are not awful at making them. They were 11th in the league in 3-point field-goal percentage at 33.6 percent.
Tech, though, overall defends the 3-pointer pretty well. The Jackets were fourth coming into the game in the conference in 3-point field-goal percentage defense at 32.1 percent. Tech’s rate last year defending 3-pointers in ACC games was 34.1 percent.
Obviously, if Pitt had been able to make a few of its 11 attempts, the game might have turned out differently.
Coach Brian Gregory said that “the one thing we’ve done all year is we’ve defended the 3 pretty well. We don’t give up on plays, we fly at guys if we’re in a scramble.”
Better on defense
Adam Smith’s influence on the game was obvious on the offensive end with 23 points on 5-for-7 shooting from 3-point range. But his defense against Pitt point guard James Robinson was important, as well.
Robinson came into the game averaging 10.4 points and 5.1 assists. Saturday, with Smith handling most of the defensive duties on him, Robinson had nine points and three assists. It was a long way from his numbers in the first game against Tech – 18 points and eight assists. Smith did a nice job of staying in front of Robinson and trying to cut off penetration.
Smith has come a long way in his defensive intensity since arriving from Virginia Tech. Gregory will tell you himself.
“I told Adam in the beginning of the year, we were trying to find anybody within the borders of the United States that he could defend,” Gregory said.
Smith acknowledged that his defense needed improvement and has since gotten better. Saturday, coaches took Smith off of Robinson for a possession to give him a break, calling for him to switch assignments with Marcus Georges-Hunt, who was defending Chris Jones. After the game, as Smith and Georges-Hunt shared the news conference dais, they told the story together.
Smith: “They told me and Marcus to switch, and they wanted to put me on Jones. I kind of threw a fit. I was like, Nah, I don’t want to do that.”
Georges-Hunt: “When he went to shoot the free throw, and I was like, you’ve got Jones …”
Smith: “They didn’t even make the adjustment. I kind of made the adjustment myself.”
Georges-Hunt: “He told me, ‘No, no, no. I’ve got Robinson.’ I said, ‘O.K., you’ve got it. I get Jones.’”
Stat of the game
Tech has won six of its past seven games that were decided by single digits. Prior to that, the Jackets had won two of the previous 22 such games.
Interesting to note
While the win obviously helps with Tech's credentials for the NIT, it sort of penalized the Jackets, as well. Prior to the game, Pitt was No. 47 in RPI. With the loss, the Panthers fell to No. 53, depriving Tech of a win over an RPI top 50 team (as well as a loss, as Tech lost to Pitt in January).
A look at how Tech and Pitt compared in four critical statistical categories: effective field-goal percentage, offensive rebounding percentage, turnover percentage and free throws per field goal attempt.
The Jackets won three of the four categories, bettering Pitt in free throw rate most decisively. It has been a weak point for the Jackets in many ACC games, a reflection on their struggles to defend the ball. Tech has improved in that area in the last few games. Saturday, Tech made one more free throw (14) than Pitt took.
Tech’s edge in effective field-goal percentage (which weights 3-point field goals proportionately), among other things, demonstrates the limitations of straight field-goal percentage as a statistic. Both teams shot 39.3 percent from the field, but Pitt was 0-for-11 from 3-point range and Tech was 5-for-15, hence the difference in eFG.
As noted above, the Jackets had a really good afternoon rebounding the ball, particularly considering the competition.