Two shots from Georgia Tech’s home loss to Clemson on Wednesday gave an indication of the Yellow Jackets’ level of confidence to make 3-pointers.
One was taken by guard Curtis Haywood, who was 1-for-22 in the previous five games. In the first half, Haywood received the ball on the right wing when the whistle blew for a defensive foul. As is custom, Haywood tossed up a casual shot. Even shooting unguarded and with play stopped, Haywood’s shot was well off the mark, grazing the front rim and richoteting off the backboard.
In the second half, guard Michael Devoe led a fast break and fed guard Jose Alvarado, who spotted up on the right wing for a 3-pointer. Alvarado had time to set his feet and release before a late challenge by Clemson’s David Skara. Holding his release, Alvarado watched the ball completely miss the basket, momentarily dropping his head before returning back on defense.
It wasn’t all like that. Tech shot 4-for-12 against Clemson from 3-point range, which compared with recent results is above the norm. But, it was evident in the way that Tech players continually passed up open 3-pointers that what may initially have been a couple of bad shooting games has burrowed into the Jackets’ psyche.
They’ll get another opportunity to release the demons Sunday night at Notre Dame.
Tech is shooting 29.3 percent from 3-point range, including 20.5 percent (18-for-88) in the past six games. After Friday’s games, the Jackets ranked 339th of 351 Division I teams in 3-point accuracy, last among power-conference teams. Tech has lost four in a row and is 11-12 overall and 6-7 in the ACC.
“We’ve just got to keep shooting it,” coach Josh Pastner said. “At some point, the thing’s going to in because we are getting good shots. We can’t turn down the good shots to try to get closer and then make it a bad shot.”
Perhaps no one is feeling it as acutely as Alvarado. In Tech’s past two games – losses at Florida State and to Clemson – he is 1-for-20 from the field, 1-for-7 from 3-point range. After the loss to Clemson, his frustration and doubt spilled out.
“I don’t know what’s in my head right now,” he said. “I just need to play like the Jose that came here.”
In the summer of 2017, Tech purchased a $5,000 shot-tracking system that measures shots’ trajectory, left/right deviation and point of entry at the rim, as well as where the shot was taken on the floor. The systems were installed both in the Zelnak Basketball Center and in McCamish Pavilion.
While Pastner has data, he’s decided it unwise to share it at this point.
“There’s some things of trajectory and left and right – it’s sort of a delicate balance, because I don’t want to say, ‘So-and-so, you’re missing a little more to your right,’” Pastner said. “Then they start thinking. So much of it right now is a mind deal.”
That may be especially so with Alvarado, whom Pastner continues to urge to shoot the 3 when open. Alvarado shot 37 percent from 3-point range last season as a freshman, but, after a summer of conscientious work on his 3-point shot, has dipped to 28.3 percent this season. His shot being off has led him to drive the ball to the basket, where, at 6-foot-0, he’s been taking what Pastner calls “hope shots.”
Said Pastner, “It’s just, you can’t do that. You’ve got to shoot the open 3.”
Pastner was contemplating a lineup change that itself was based in hopefulness – giving more playing time to guard Shembari Phillips. Pastner said that he anticipated that Phillips would be his starting shooting guard this season, and he started the first six games. However, Pastner said that “he hasn’t played to the level that we need him to play,” and he has fallen out of the rotation. He has played 45 minutes in seven ACC games.
In search of a boost, Pastner wanted to see what Phillips could do, and was contemplating putting him in the starting lineup. However, Pastner said Friday that Phillips had come down with the flu, and the guard did not make the trip to Notre Dame.
Making matters worse for a team that failed to reach the 50-point mark in its past two games – the first Tech team since the 2013-14 team to bear that distinction – the Jackets are also getting to the free-throw line less frequently.
The Jackets have taken 12.8 free throws per game in the past five games. They had averaged 24.4 free throws in their first five ACC games. To Pastner, it is a result of the Jackets’ 3-point woes. When players turn down 3-point shots to drive to the basket, they’re doing so with the intent of shooting and not creating for teammates.
“So we’re not forcing defenses to scramble or rotate, which is when you get more fouls,” Pastner said. “And I think teams are just packing it in more than they’ve ever packed it because of our (3-point shooting) numbers.”
While Tech has lost all five meetings at Notre Dame’s Joyce Center since the Fighting Irish joined the ACC for the 2013-14 season, the Jackets may have somewhat favorable conditions. Beset by injuries, Notre Dame is down from its normal standards at 12-11 overall and 2-8 in the ACC. The Irish also rank second to last in the ACC in 3-point field-goal percentage defense (34.1 percent).
Plus, Pastner trimmed his curly mop to a more manageable style, evidently in search of a change in fortune.
“Whatever it takes,” he said.