After an ugly start, Georgia Tech rolled to an easy win over East Carolina Friday night at McCamish Pavilion. Guard Curtis Haywood was out front, tossing in a career-high 18 points to contribute to the Yellow Jackets’ 79-54 win over the Pirates in Tech’s third game of the season.
The win gave Haywood no small pleasure, and not only because of his scoring load.
“We played together well (Friday) and I loved the way we played (Friday),” Haywood said. “If we play like this every game, we’ll be a tough team to play.”
Discerning meaning from an early-season win over a team projected to finish at or near the bottom of the American Athletic Conference is an errand requiring some caution, but the Jackets did some things that caught notice. Tech (2-1) shot the ball well again from 3-point range, making nine of 17 attempts, following their 12-for-30 effort in the season opener against Lamar (and also their 3-for-19 night at No. 5 Tennessee on Tuesday).
In coach Josh Pastner’s 72-game tenure at Tech (the win evened his record at 36-36), the Jackets have made nine or more 3-pointers just seven times. Two of those games have taken place in the first three games of the season. Six different players scored from 3-point range Friday, led by Haywood’s 3-for-5 shooting.
“We don’t care who scores,” Haywood said. “That’s the thing; we’re just unselfish.”
After averaging 15.3 3-point attempts last season and making 32 percent of them (near the bottom in the NCAA), the Jackets have averaged 22 3-point shots per game and have made 36 percent. Pastner has said repeatedly that the team will live and die by its 3-point shooting. Against ECU (2-2), life was abundant.
“Look, we’re going to shoot 3’s, and as long as they’re good 3’s – our feet are set and we make ’em, we’ll be a really good team,” Pastner said.
Tech was particularly hot in the final nine minutes of the first half. Down 13-10, the Jackets scored on 11 consecutive possessions, taking advantage of ECU missing shots and turning the ball over to score in transition and also moving the ball quickly in the halfcourt. On three consecutive trips, ball movement set up open 3-pointers, knocked down by Haywood twice and guard Shembari Phillips once. When guard Jose Alvarado scored on a pullup jumper on a possession started with a steal by center Abdoulaye Gueye, the Jackets led 36-18, a 26-5 run.
“When we got discombobulated, it was a total meltdown,” ECU coach Joe Dooley said.
It was a stark contrast to the way the Jackets started the game. In the first eight minutes of the game, the Jackets scored just one basket but had turned the ball over five times. To Haywood, it appeared that his team was taking ECU lightly, and it roused his ire. He lit up his teammates during the first television timeout.
“I was going a little crazy during the timeout and saying all kinds of words and just whatever popped to mind, and they responded,” Haywood said.
For Haywood, the idea of losing to an inferior team is particularly painful. Last season, in the sixth game, the Jackets lost to Grambling State, ending the Tigers’ 63-game losing streak to power-conference teams. Inside the final 10 seconds, Haywood and Ben Lammers went for a missed Grambling State shot and accidentally tipped the ball in for the Tigers’ winning points. Haywood said he cried in the locker room after the loss.
“When I reminded everybody about (the Grambling State game), everybody’s eyes just looked at me like, Alright, you’re right,” Haywood said. “And after that, it just clicked for us.”
While his team is still young and learning to play together – four of the six players with the most minutes Friday were freshmen or sophomores – it was a moment of accountability and leadership that Pastner appreciated.
“He would not have done that a year ago,” Pastner said of Haywood. “But that’s just part of experience. That’s what we’ve got to do in moving forward.”
Also worth noting:
Freshman guard Michael Devoe had his first double-digit scoring game, with 13 off the bench. Devoe had a particularly tough night in the 66-53 loss to No. 5 Tennessee on Tuesday, going scoreless on 0-for-6 shooting and turning the ball over six times.
“It’s going to be a process, so I’ve got to learn everything and get adapted to everything,” he said. “It’s been good, though.”
Forward Evan Cole was in a walking boot after spraining his left ankle against Tennessee. Pastner said he is day-to-day. Forward Moses Wright started in his place and contributed six points and six rebounds.
For the third consecutive game, Tech held its opponent to under 40 percent shooting from the field. ECU, which started three freshmen, one sophomore and one junior, shot 35.6 percent from the field and turned the ball over 22 times.