Turnovers have been a consistent problem for Tech (6-7, 1-2 ACC). The Jackets entered the game ranked 339th in Division I, last among power-conference teams, at 17.2 turnovers per game. Awareness of the shortcoming evidently wasn’t enough to compel the Jackets to take better care of the ball, as they lost it twice on bad passes and another time on a travel within their first five possessions of the game.
That was only the start. More bad passes, travels and questionable decisions to dribble into heavy traffic followed. The aggressive driving did help yield 15 assists – more than the Jackets have had in the past six games.
“I felt we were trying to play the right way, but you’re right – we got in there deep (into the paint) at times,” coach Josh Pastner said.
Still, because the Jackets’ zone defense and ability to disrupt Florida State (12-2, 2-1) kept the Seminoles off-kilter, the game was within reach three quarters of the way through.
“The game could have gone either way for, I’d say, 33 minutes,” FSU coach Leonard Hamilton said.
In the second half, Tech went empty on seven different possessions in which it had a chance to tie or take the lead.
Guard Jose Alvarado lost the ball driving to the basket, a layup try by guard Jordan Usher was too strong off the glass, forward Moses Wright was off-target on an outlet pass, Wright couldn’t put down a dunk try after a behind-the-head pass from Usher, Usher missed a 3-pointer from the corner, the Jackets had three scoring chances on a possession and couldn’t convert and, lastly, Tech lost possession on a held-ball situation.
“That was a breaking point where we could have scored right there, and we could have started our run,” Wright said of his outlet pass.
Florida State is an excellent defensive team and its height, length and quickness caused problems. But Tech created its own problems in addition.
“You can’t miss the dunk,” Pastner said. “You can’t miss the layup. When you’re wide open from 3, we’ve got to make those. We can’t turn it over when we ran the ball and we have a fast break. Just, those are things that can’t happen.”
The game began to slip away at the 10:07 mark with the score 48-45 in FSU’s favor, following the last of the seven empty possessions with a chance to tie or take the lead. Seminoles guard Anthony Polite drove the baseline, and Usher, coming from the backside of the play, fouled him hard, putting Polite on his back. Usher appeared to be making a play on the ball, but it was called for a flagrant-1 foul. Polite made both free throws and, retaining possession, FSU scored again to push the lead to seven. FSU took control from that point.
“That changed the game,” said Pastner, who stated his disagreement with the call.
Tuesday’s loss was the fourth this season in which the Jackets held their opponent to 70 points or fewer while turning the ball over 15 or more times.
“We defended well enough to win the whole game,” Pastner said.
Devoe led the Jackets with a game-high 19 points, making six of eight 3-point tries. Wright, who Monday was named ACC player of the week for his exploits in the team’s three games in Hawaii, finished with 13 points and 10 rebounds, his fourth double-double of the season. But they also contributed a combined 10 turnovers.
“We’re all down about (losing), but we’re not going to get stuck on it,” Wright said. “We’re going to move to the next game, which is UNC (on Saturday).”
FSU was led by guard Devin Vassell of Peachtree Ridge High, who had 14 points and nine rebounds.
“I always get fueled up to play Georgia Tech,” Vassell said.
Pastner declared his team’s continued improvement over the past four games since its horrendous Dec. 18 home loss to Ball State.
“Yes, we’re 2-2 over the last four, but I like the direction we’re heading,” he said.