Georgia Tech’s Robert Carter has been a most enthusiastic member of the Yellow Jackets bench during his recovery from knee surgery.
He stands up clapping, cheering and ready to dole out high-fives when his teammates return to the bench for timeouts. During a critical N.C. State possession in the Jackets’ overtime loss Sunday, Carter was hunched over, hands on knees, trying to will a defensive stop.
Tech is ready for that role to be over.
Said guard Chris Bolden, “I’m just ready for Robert to come back.”
There is no area where Tech has not felt the loss of Carter, who had averaged 10.3 points and 9.3 rebounds when he tore the meniscus in his left knee in the Jackets’ final nonconference game Dec. 29. It is perhaps most noticeable on defense, where the Jackets have suffered without Carter’s presence in the paint.
“I thought we were making strides defensively in a lot of areas in nonconference (play), especially against some of the good teams that we played,” coach Brian Gregory said. “So we’ve been kind of taken advantage of a little bit on the defensive end.”
In North Carolina, Tech faces an opponent Wednesday night (7 p.m., ESPN2) entirely capable of whipsawing the Jackets. North Carolina has been slow out of the gate in ACC play, but torched Clemson in an 80-61 victory Sunday in Chapel Hill, N.C. The Tar Heels shot 55.4 percent against the Tigers.
Tech ranks 14th — second to last after Monday’s games — in the ACC in defensive field-goal percentage in conference games, at 47.0 percent. A year ago, Tech held teams to 42.5 percent shooting in ACC play largely with the same lineup, Carter excepted.
“He’s a really smart player. He knows where to be on defense, and he’s good about not fouling and things like that, so it’s hard not having that,” center Daniel Miller said. “But (Kammeon Holsey) is in there, and he’s a big, physical body.”
Carter’s absence has impacted Tech in multiple ways on defense. Averaging 7.2 defensive rebounds per game, Carter’s board work limited opponent possessions. The two players primarily filling in for Carter, Holsey and Quinton Stephens, have averaged a combined 4.7 defensive rebounds in conference play. It is not only those two who have needed to contribute more. In the final minute Sunday, Wolfpack guard Desmond Lee was not blocked out and scored on a game-tying tip-in.
Teams are more emboldened to go into the paint without Carter defending the rim with his 6-foot-8, 247-pound frame. ACC opponents have scored 47 percent of their points in the paint. In Tech’s four nonconference games against major conference teams — Georgia, Illinois, Mississippi and Vanderbilt — the rate was 41 percent.
“A guy gets the ball on the perimeter, you’ve got Daniel and Robert down there. A lot of times, guys don’t even think about driving,” Gregory said. “So it’s a little different.”
Not having Carter’s minutes also taxes Miller and Holsey.
“It limits them inside when Holsey or Miller get into foul trouble or they’re tired,” N.C. State coach Mark Gottfried said. “They don’t have that player yet that’s as effective as Carter. It changes everything.”
Gregory said Monday that he expected to learn Wednesday whether Carter will be put on a track to return to play this season or be shut down.
Said Miller, “We’ll just do our best without him.”
As of Tuesday afternoon, Tech officials planned to play Wednesday’s game as scheduled, despite the weather conditions. North Carolina hoped to fly to Atlanta at 9 p.m. Tuesday. Fans are encouraged to check ramblinwreck.com Wednesday for updates.
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Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC