After near upset of Duke, new challenge awaits Georgia Tech

Duke forward Vernon Carey, Jr., grabs the offensive rebound in front of Georgia Tech forward James Banks III during the second half in a NCAA college basketball game on Wednesday, January 8, 2020, in Atlanta.  Curtis Compton
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Duke forward Vernon Carey, Jr., grabs the offensive rebound in front of Georgia Tech forward James Banks III during the second half in a NCAA college basketball game on Wednesday, January 8, 2020, in Atlanta. Curtis Compton

Credit: Curtis Compton

Credit: Curtis Compton

After a high-level effort pushed No. 2 Duke to the brink Wednesday, Georgia Tech now faces a different sort of challenge Saturday when the Yellow Jackets encounter Boston College on the road.

“Our defensive intensity was at a high level,” guard Michael Devoe said. “Those type of things, we’ve got to take to each and every game. Even though we played the No. 2 team in the country, we’ve got to take that to every team we play from here on out.”

Spurred by a sellout crowd and driven to take on the best that the ACC (and perhaps country) has to offer, Tech didn’t have trouble locating its highest gear, resulting in seven blocked shots (all by center James Banks, one shy of his career high) and a 39-30 rebounding margin against a Duke team that was No. 5 nationally in that category going into the game.

On Saturday, the Yellow Jackets will face an opponent that is formidable (9-6, 3-1 ACC), but hardly a name brand, in an arena that might be two-thirds full. But, as the Jackets (7-8, 2-3) cling to their NCAA tournament hopes, games like this are close to imperative.

“I feel like we can compete with any team in the country, as well,” Devoe said, speaking of a compliment doled out by Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski following Wednesday’s game. “We’ve just got to bring that every night and just compete at a high level every night.”

Against the Eagles, among the prominent objectives will be a familiar one – holding on to the ball. Against Duke, Tech sabotaged itself with 17 turnovers, including 10 by guards Jose Alvarado, Bubba Parham and Devoe. Tech committed six of them in the final nine minutes of the first half, when Duke charged from a 20-19 deficit to a 40-29 halftime lead.

“I just feel like our stamina was going down,” Devoe said. “We were playing super hard because we wanted to win the game so badly. So that stretch, I feel like we just got a little bit tired and we made some silly plays that we shouldn’t have made. We learn from that type of stuff and we just keep better from it and learn from it.”

That put Tech down a path in which coach Josh Pastner rode forward Moses Wright, Alvarado, Banks and Devoe to catch up to Duke in the second half, then stuck with them into the final minutes.

“We were down 11 to start the half, so we had no choice but to try to claw our way back, which we did,” Pastner said. “And at that point, you’re going to go with the guys that got you back in front.”

All four played all or virtually all of the second half. Perhaps because of the fatigue, Tech missed its final 11 shots from the field and 14 of its final 15.

“I think towards the end, we got a little tired, and we turned the ball over at key moments,” Devoe said. “We just missed a couple shots at the end that usually we’ll knock down.”

Going into Friday’s games, Boston College was tied for 25th nationally in steals per game (9.1 per game) and tied for 32nd in turnovers forced at 16.87 per game. Forward Steffon Mitchell ranked tied for 21st at 2.4 steals per game.

Tech has made strides in keeping better hold of the ball, but it remains an issue. In their five games with the fewest turnovers – three have been in the past five games – the Jackets averaged 12.8 turnovers. There are nine ACC teams that average fewer turnovers for the season.

“It’s going to come down to us not turning it over, especially our guards,” Pastner said. “It’s all about guard play.”

One way that Tech has tried to maximize scoring chances in spite of the turnovers is to go harder to the offensive glass. Pastner has been judicious in sending players to the basket to contend for offensive rebounds in order to retreat and protect against fast breaks. But, Tech had two of its top offensive-rebounding games in the past two games on the backs of inspired efforts by Banks and Wright. Pastner said there has been more of a “conscientious effort” on offensive rebounding. He did challenge wing player Jordan Usher, who has had four offensive rebounds in his seven games this season.

“He’s more than capable, and he’s got to be a stud on the offensive glass,” Pastner said.

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