A second review of Georgia Tech’s 78-75 win over N.C. State on Thursday night at McCamish Pavilion. For the “5 observations” story, read here.
1. N.C. State prides itself on its pressure defense and ability to force turnovers. Entering the game, the Wolfpack had forced 15.3 turnovers per game, most in the ACC. It is a staple of their attack. Before Thursday, they were 8-1 in ACC play when they won turnover margin and 2-5 when losing (and 0-1 when even, against Virginia).
The game Thursday gave validation to the statistic. In the first half, Tech was clearly bothered by N.C. State’s defensive pressure. It doesn’t account for some of the clumsy ballhandling in the first half, but it seemed to speed up the Yellow Jackets and induce passes and decisions they might not normally have made.
“They really want to speed you up,” said interim assistant coach Julian Swartz, who handled the scouting report for N.C. State. “They want to control the pace and the temp of the game and speed you up.”
What he wanted to impress upon the team was the importance of getting the ball into the frontcourt and initiating the offense. It didn’t happen so much in the first half.
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The Jackets turned the ball over 11 times in 38 first-half possessions (which is a lot for Tech; 33 is about the Jackets’ pace). The pressure likely also threw off rhythm and helped account for horrendous shooting when Tech wasn’t torching possessions – 9-for-23 inside the 3-point arc, which is quite bad.
N.C. State turned it over six times in the first half, and the Wolfpack led 38-31 at the half.
In the second half, the Jackets played at their pace – 33 possessions – and were more deliberate on running offense through center Ben Lammers, who was able to exploit N.C. State’s overplaying with backdoor cuts. It was remarkable to see Tech score on cutters over and over with some deft passes from Lammers, who had five assists in the second half.
“They were overplaying, they were switching everything,” guard Tadric Jackson said. “It was just bad communication. They were doing a lot of finger pointing and saying ‘Switch’ and didn’t switch.”
Tech turned the ball over three times in 33 possessions while N.C. State had five. Perhaps not surprisingly, the Jackets “won” the second half 47-37 and took the game, as well.
Overall, N.C. State won turnover margin 14-11, only the second time the Wolfpack has lost when doing so in ACC play.
2. Swartz had praise for guard Brandon Alston, who played 27 minutes and didn’t turn the ball over. He also hit a big 3-pointer with 10 minutes to play that gave Tech its first lead of the game, at 58-55.
Swartz said Alston “played with tremendous poise and just sureness, and he just really, really was tough out there.”
3. To N.C. State coach Kevin Keatts, the difference was 50/50 balls.
“I just thought that we didn’t get the loose balls that we normally would get,” he said. “Our guys played extremely hard. I thought we played with great effort, but I thought they beat us to all the loose balls, and that’s something we’ve got to get better at before we play Saturday.”
4. Coach Josh Pastner had flowery words for the fan support at McCamish.
“The crowd was once again amazing,” he said. “They were loud, they were energized. It’s a Thursday night. Obviously, we haven’t had the best of years, but for them to come out and be that into it gave us a great lift. I’m happy that we were able to validate that for the fans, as well, too.”
Pastner took the opportunity to mention again that the team is giving out 3,500 Chick-fil-A chicken biscuits prior to Saturday’s game against Wake Forest, which is senior day.
5. Re-setting Tech’s ACC Tournament picture:
Were the tournament to begin Friday, Tech would play Syracuse on Tuesday in a 12-13 game, with the Jackets being No. 13. The winner would play the No. 5 seed, Miami, on Wednesday.
Saturday’s Tech-Wake Forest game will determine the 13 and 14 seeds. The No. 14 seed plays the No. 11 seed (which as of Friday is Boston College), with the winner advancing to play the No. 6 seed, which is Virginia Tech as of Friday.
6. Pastner dedicated the win to Thomas Lozano, a Tech grad and a longtime staff member in the athletic department. Lozano, 38, died Thursday following a brief illness. A moment of honor was held before the game for Lozano, a spirited and courageous man who overcame physical disabilities to serve Tech with distinction.