In a season in which there seems to have been no lack of trouble spots, Georgia Tech has sprung another leak. In the past two games, as the Yellow Jackets’ losing streak extended to three games, their transition defense has been faulty.
“I think that’s been a big key for us, is giving up some transition baskets,” coach Brian Gregory said. “So that’s obviously a key point for us in our emphasis over the next couple of weeks.”
Tech will try to address it Sunday at Florida State (6 p.m., ESPNU), which has won eight in a row in the series. In Tech’s 63-55 loss to Clemson on Feb. 22, the Jackets were outscored 18-2 in transition by Gregory’s count, as Clemson repeatedly took advantage of Tech turnovers made on the perimeter to give the Tigers a head start on the fast break.
Against Notre Dame on Wednesday, Tech turned the ball over a season-low six times, but still gave up a number of decisive baskets in transition in its 65-62 loss. Poor transition defense helped the Fighting Irish erase a 22-11 deficit over the final 7:42 of the half and take a 33-31 lead at halftime. Gregory said Friday that the Jackets lost the game during that stretch.
On at least three different occasions in that span, two of which resulted in baskets, Notre Dame rebounded misses by Tech and quickly pushed the ball up the court without resistance. In one instance, Irish guard Pat Connaughton caught an air-balled jump shot practically underneath his basket with four Tech players between him and their end of the court.
Facing no pressure, Connaughton charged up the court and threw ahead for a layup, at which point Gregory immediately called timeout. Later in the half, Connaughton had another free release up the court after a defensive rebound. By the time Connaughton passed ahead to guard Eric Atkins, who made an open 3-pointer, all five Tech players had retreated to their end of the court, but three were still running back into position.
“When you’re battling in two-, three-point games, that’s big,” Gregory said.
Notre Dame coach Mike Brey said that during that run, the decision to switch to zone defense seemed to take Tech out of its rhythm and create transition opportunities.
“You get some easy buckets in transition, all of a sudden you start to believe a little bit,” he said.
The reasons for Tech’s slippage in transition defense are multiple. With players such as guard Trae Golden and forward Kammeon Holsey nursing injuries and the grind of the season taking its toll, Gregory has limited practicing at game speed, which he said is the only way to practice transition defense. On-court communication has been a factor, resulting in two players defending the same player, leaving another open. In both games, Tech failed to consistently stop the ball as it came up the court.
“It really is all just our defense when we’re not doing well,” center Daniel Miller said. “Guys just stop guarding, and we struggle with that sometimes. That’s usually when they make their runs.”
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