Jan. 09, 2019 Atlanta: Georgia Tech guard Michael Devoe gets off a pass under pressure from Virginia Tech defenders during the second half in a NCAA basketball at McCamish Pavilion on Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2019, in Atlanta. Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com
Photo: ccompton@ajc.com/Curtis Compton
Photo: ccompton@ajc.com/Curtis Compton

Yellow Jackets catching fever, but not the good kind

Georgia Tech may play elite defense, but the Yellow Jackets’ 1-3-1 zone is apparently no match for the flu virus. In the month of February, four players have missed practice and/or game time with the flu, and members of coach Josh Pastner’s staff have been fighting off illness, as well.

Forward Evan Cole has missed the past two games. Guard Shembari Phillips missed two games before returning for the Florida State game Saturday, a 69-47 home loss. Guards Jose Alvarado and Michael Devoe did not practice either of the two days before playing the Seminoles. Walk-on guard Malachi Rice, while he did not contract the flu, also missed one game. Assistant coach Julian Swartz was not on the bench for the FSU game.

“We’ve got to keep fighting,” said coach Josh Pastner, whose team will attempt to keep up the fight Wednesday night against Pittsburgh at McCamish Pavilion.

It would be simplistic (and inaccurate) to lay blame for the Jackets’ seven-game losing streak on the flu. But it hasn’t helped. Cole is capable of giving Tech a scoring punch off the bench. Phillips had been out of the rotation, but Pastner was going to give him a chance against Notre Dame on Feb. 10 to try to ignite the unproductive offense.

Against Florida State, while Alvarado broke out of a scoring slump with 17 points, Devoe felt fatigued and his play suffered. After scoring a combined 40 points with 11 assists in his two previous games, Devoe scored six points on 2-for-11 shooting with one assist against four turnovers.

While other factors were at play, not having the two primary ballhanders present for either practice before the game could only have reduced the Jackets’ opportunity for an upset. The Jackets held Florida State under the Seminoles’ ACC and season averages for field-goal percentage and scoring. However, Tech shot 27.1 percent from the field, got to the free-throw line only 11 times, turned the ball over 14 times and, despite missing 43 shots, secured only six offensive rebounds. It might have been the least efficient offensive game in Pastner’s tenure.

“I think we really didn’t have that energy that we needed and it mostly needed to come from me and (Alvarado),” Devoe said. “When we don’t really have it, it kind of feeds off to everybody else not having it as well.”

Devoe’s health actually began failing Wednesday against Virginia Tech, when, ironically, he scored a career-high 22 points with four 3-pointers.

“When we played Virginia Tech, I was feeling horrible that game,” he said. “But Coach said, ‘Just play through it, and we’ll figure it out afterwards.’”

Devoe said he felt even worse the next morning after returning from Blacksburg, Va.

“Body aches, fever, things like that,” Devoe said.

It was similar to what Phillips described when he fell ill about two weeks ago.

“I couldn’t sleep,” he said. “I had the chills, sweating. I took, like, four showers in one night. I went to the doctor the next morning and they said I had the flu.”

It was particularly poor timing for Phillips, as Pastner had already told him he’d give him more playing time. He said that “I tried to take every remedy” in hopes of getting his health back to make the trip to Notre Dame, to no avail.

“Things happen for a reason, and I can’t be too mad about that,” Phillips said. “I’m just trying to continue to get back. I still need to get my wind completely back. That first day back in practice, I was tired. Hopefully, we’ll all be ready to go against Pitt. Hopefully, he gives me an opportunity to get back out there.”

The bug has not spread because of a lack of precaution. Annual flu shots are required for each team member. The balls used in practice are sanitized on a daily basis. The locker room is cleaned with multiple sanitizing foggers and with commonly touched surfaces sprayed down every month. Hand washing and use of sanitizer are routinely encouraged.

Since it began to spread, the locker room, showers and common areas got a deep cleanse, and players and support staff were put on medication. There is now a one-time-usage protocol for towels. Still, trainer Rich Stewart said that this is the highest incidence rate in the 12 seasons that he has served the team.

(There has not been an accompanying spike on campus, although the flu has knocked out players at Duke and Florida State.)

While trying to get healthy, Tech is trying to avoid an eighth consecutive loss, which would tie for the Jackets’ longest since the 1980-81 season, which was Dwane Morrison’s final season as Tech coach. Pitt, in its first season with coach Jeff Capel, has lost nine in a row.

As of Monday, Cole had yet to be cleared, and Pastner said that center James Banks told him he was feeling sick, as well. As players gathered in the team meeting room before Monday’s practice, a hacking cough could be heard through the door.

Health and victory – the Jackets are pining for both.

“It’s going to start going good,” Devoe said. “The ball’s going to start falling for us. It’s a matter of time.”

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