In a Sunday exhibition game at McCamish Pavilion, Georgia Tech offered a first look at the team that coach Josh Pastner plans to lead to the NCAA tournament (if eligible). Some of what the Yellow Jackets put on display against Division II Georgia College lent credence to Pastner’s optimism, while other elements less so.
“There’s some good stuff that we did,” Pastner said. “A couple things we’ve obviously got to clean up.”
As the Jackets defeated the Bobcats 98-76, transfer guard Bubba Parham’s 3-point marksmanship was the shiny bauble finally unwrapped for the 1,984 in attendance. Parham was 5-for-5 from 3-point range for a team-high 15 points, including one shot in the second half from the left wing that was perhaps two steps behind the new 3-point arc, now 22 feet, 1-3/4 inches from the basket.
After Georgia College had closed a 54-42 halftime deficit to 61-55 near the 14-minute mark, Parham tossed in three 3-pointers in a span of 1:40 and assisted on a fast-break layup by forward Evan Cole, part of a 15-0 run that began to cement the final outcome.
“When I get the ball in my hands and my teammates find me, it’s just like any other shot,” Parham said.
Not necessarily so for Tech in recent years, which is part of the reason his addition has been so anticipated. Last season at VMI, Parham led the Southern Conference in scoring with 21.4 points per game while shooting 37.9 percent from 3-point range for VMI. The Jackets were 331st in Division I in 3-point shooting at 30.7 percent, a failing that likely cost Tech wins in its 14-18 season.
Pastner, though, also liked that Parham was involved in getting the ball up the floor quickly to create open shots for teammates.
“Coach has been on me about that since day one,” Parham said. “He saw my speed, so he wants me, every time I get the ball, to go down the floor with pace, get the offense going.”
Besides his 15 points, Parham had two rebounds, two assists, a steal and no turnovers. He might have had a few more assists had teammates been more accurate from 3-point range. The rest of the team was 6-for-18, including a 2-for-3 effort by transfer forward David Didenko, who scored six points.
Tech played with the faster pace that Pastner has sought in order to create open shots and easier baskets in transition, although the Jackets didn’t always push the ball up the floor as quickly as he wanted.
The Jackets amassed 78 possessions, well above the 67 that the they averaged last season (according to KenPom) when Pastner slowed the pace to give his team a better chance to win low-scoring tussles.
Led by guard Jose Alvarado, Tech came out of the game sprinting, pushing the ball ahead after defensive stops and even after makes to create transition opportunities. Within the first 10 minutes, Tech had gotten shots off within the first five seconds of the shot clock about eight times in 19 possessions, usually with positive results. The Jackets were quickly finding Alvarado after rebounds, and he either dribbled hard to the basket or threw ahead to a teammate.
Alvarado was excellent early, with 10 of his 14 points and two of his four assists in the first 10 minutes of the game.
However, the Jackets’ urgency waned as the game went on. Pastner pinned part of it on his rampant substituting that threw players off rhythm, but “part of it was more Jose. He had a lot of kind of walk-ups in certain areas and that ended up making us have a slower pace at times. It was really more on Jose than it was anybody. We need to be able to score, or at least get the ball quickly up the floor after we get a stop.”
Tech also had trouble holding onto the ball — 17 turnovers compared to Georgia College’s 12 – and gave up 21 fast-break points. For good measure, the Jackets were broken down on the dribble probably more often than Pastner might have preferred, as Tech worked its man-to-man defense instead of its standard 1-3-1 zone. Given that defense has been a strength for Tech and also that the Jackets will be seeing better competition when it starts the season at N.C. State on November 5, it’s a concern. (Georgia College, 17-12 a year ago, was led by 26 points from guard Jordan Thomas, a Heritage High grad.)
“There’s been some areas in transition defense that we haven’t been real good in, and we’ve got to get better at it,” Pastner said. “So that’s something that this week we’ve got to really spend a lot of time on.”
Tech did shoot 52 percent from the field, with Alvarado scoring 14 on 6-for-10 shooting. Forwards Khalid Moore, Evan Cole and Moses Wright combined for 38 points on 12-for-17 shooting, 23 rebounds and seven assists.
“I feel like mostly I just try to get the energy going,” said Moore, who had five rebounds, three assists, was 7-for-8 from the free-throw line and drew five fouls. “Play hard from the jump, get my teammates going doing whatever I can to help our team win.”
The other significant newcomer, freshman guard Asanti Price, scored three points on 1-for-9 shooting but had four assists. Tech was also without guards Michael Devoe and Jordan Usher. Devoe is returning from a toe injury and Usher, a transfer from USC who will be eligible to play after the fall semester, was not eligible to play in the exhibition by NCAA rule.
Tech will play its second exhibition next Sunday at Alabama and then begin the season against the Wolfpack. The Jackets have been banned from the postseason by the NCAA for recruiting violations, but are appealing the penalty. The penalties under appeal won’t be applied for the duration of the appeals process, which likely will not conclude before the end of the regular season.