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Georgia Tech flummoxed at Notre Dame

Georgia Tech forward Moses Wright scored 17 points to go with eight rebounds, four assists and three blocks in the Yellow Jackets' 80-72 loss to Notre Dame February 1, 2020 at Purcell Pavilion in South Bend, Ind. (Fighting Irish Media)
Georgia Tech forward Moses Wright scored 17 points to go with eight rebounds, four assists and three blocks in the Yellow Jackets' 80-72 loss to Notre Dame February 1, 2020 at Purcell Pavilion in South Bend, Ind. (Fighting Irish Media)

Georgia Tech’s winning streak came to an end at a humble two games.

Hoping to have turned a corner after a win the previous Saturday against N.C. State followed by a Tuesday win over Division II Morehouse, the Yellow Jackets were exceptional at two things but dreadful at many others in an 80-72 loss Saturday at Notre Dame.

Errant shooting at the rim and a big game from Notre Dame forward John Mooney helped secure a seventh consecutive home win over Tech, a streak begun when the Fighting Irish joined the ACC in 2013. Tech has also now lost four in a row to Notre Dame overall.

“They’re a hard team to beat, obviously,” said Tech guard Jose Alvarado, who led the Jackets with 25 points on 10-for-19 shooting.

Who Tech may have needed most Saturday sat watching the game from the Jackets’ bench – guard Michael Devoe, who missed his third consecutive game with a foot injury. With the Irish sitting back in a zone to better attend to forward Moses Wright and center James Banks, the Jackets would have been aided by the service of their leading scorer and most accurate 3-point shooter.

Tech (10-12, 4-7 ACC) shot 4-for-18 from 3-point range (22.2%), offering Notre Dame (13-8, 3-7) little reason to extend its defense.

“I don’t think they guarded Khalid (Moore) or Jordan (Usher) or Evan (Cole) or Moses unless they were in the paint,” coach Josh Pastner said. “That made it tough, and not having Mike Devoe hurts us in that scenario because it takes another shooter that’s not in the game in that situation.”

In part because of Notre Dame’s defense of the paint, but likely also because of the Jackets’ simple inability to score from close range, Tech did not win despite performing with exceeding proficiency two tasks typically associated with victory – offensive rebounding and limiting turnovers.

Pastner has urged his team to be better at both, particularly the latter, as improving both would permit more shots for a team whose shotmaking has been improving. The Jackets responded Saturday, with 20 offensive rebounds against Notre Dame’s 25 defensive rebounds and five turnovers. Both were season bests by four. In fact, the Jackets missed tying the team record for fewest turnovers in a game by one.

Wright, Banks and Cole were aggressive and in place to collect misses, together combining for 13 offensive rebounds.

“They’ve got some long guys down there, especially Banks and Moses Wright,” said Mooney, who tied his career high with 28 points. “They’re big bodies. They definitely beat us up a little bit on the offensive glass.”

In front of an announced crowd of 8,240, guards Bubba Parham and Alvarado meanwhile played a combined 76 minutes and turned it over only twice.

How much of an outlier afternoon did Tech enjoy in those two categories? Before Saturday, since the start of the 2010-11 season, only one ACC team had had 20 or more offensive rebounds and five or fewer turnovers against a conference opponent, according to sports-reference.com.

However, the Jackets couldn’t exploit a 74-51 advantage in field-goal tries in no small part because they were groan-inducingly inaccurate near the basket. Tech was 9-for-19 on layup and dunk tries where Notre Dame was 7-for-11.

“We had 44 points (in the paint), but we maybe could have had 64 if we’d made more layups,” Pastner said.

That failing was particularly evident starting in a stretch near the 15-minute mark of the second half. Down 46-45 in a game that had been close to that point, the Jackets missed a series of close-range shots, including a dunk try by Cole. Notre Dame pushed the lead to 58-50 by the 10:04 mark, fueled by two things the Irish did well Saturday – make 3-pointers (9-for-24) and make free throws (23-for-28). Tech, which got to the line 12 times (making eight) didn’t get closer than five the rest of the way.

“The bottom line came down to, they hit some tough 2’s, and they made nine 3’s,” Pastner said. “And we didn’t make enough 3’s.”

That stretch overlapped with a three-minute segment when Wright was on the bench after he had been called for his fourth foul at the 14:53 mark. The Irish led 46-45 when he left and were up 53-48 when he returned three minutes later, after which he acknowledged his aggressiveness was limited by his foul situation. Wright contributed 17 points, eight rebounds, four assists and three blocks in a superior effort.

It was another game in which Tech looked the part of a competitive ACC team, a role made especially difficult Saturday with its leading scorer was out, but one not quite deep or consistent enough to pull out wins.

The loss dimmed further Tech’s postseason hopes (the team is appealing its postseason ban from the NCAA, and is eligible for the postseason as long as the appeal is being processed). At 10-12 and nine regular-season games remaining, the Jackets probably can’t afford to lose again before the ACC tournament to have a reasonable shot of making the NCAA tournament via an at-large bid. Pastner did not sound hopeful after the game that Devoe would return for the next game, Tuesday at home against Virginia Tech.

“We all bought in in the locker room, talking about how we need to win these last games,” Wright said. “So that’s the plan moving forward. We’re going to take it one game at a time.”