In James Banks’ Georgia Tech debut, he and his teammates struggled against a superior opponent on its home court with a predictable result.
Up against No. 5 Tennessee, the Yellow Jackets were a low-functioning group on offense and lost 66-53 to the Volunteers Tuesday night in Thompson-Boling Arena.
“I was proud of our guys’ effort. We competed and we battled,” coach Josh Pastner said. “Obviously, we were not real good offensively this evening.”
Tech (1-1) lost for the third consecutive season to Tennessee (3-0).
Banks, the transfer from Texas who learned Tuesday afternoon that the NCAA had granted him a waiver for immediate eligibility, scored five points with seven rebounds before fouling out in just 16 minutes of play, perhaps not a surprise given that he had rushed up from Atlanta Tuesday to be able to join the team.
When the team bused up to Knoxville, Banks had remained behind on campus as he was not expecting to play. He learned the news around 1 p.m. and was able to hop on a flight to join the team in Knoxville to join the team around 6:15 p.m. ahead of the 9 p.m. tipoff.
“I was humbled just to be out there, grateful that I was able to get a chance to play with these guys to try to help them beat a really good team,” Banks said.
His first appearance off the bench, at the 8:43 mark of the first half, was a little unsteady. He was scored on in his first defensive possession and then was called for goaltending on Tennessee’s next trip down the floor. Coach Josh Pastner took him out of the game, bringing him back in with 2:49 left in the half. He played much of the second half before fouling out with 5:14 to play.
Perhaps his most emphatic play was a dunk off what appeared to be an alley-oop pass from guard Jose Alvarado.
“I thought he did some good things,” Pastner said of Banks.
As for the Jackets, they were less talented and aggressive than the Volunteers, but managed to hang around against a team considered to be a Final Four contender. In the second half, the Volunteers’ lead ranged from seven to 15 points.
Tennessee, which was 26-9 last season and a No. 3 seed in the NCAA Tournament, had an effective field-goal percentage of 43.8 percent Tuesday night, which would have been its seventh lowest last season.
“I think we can be very good defensively,” guard Brandon Alston said. “That’s one of the best defensive teams in the country, in our opinion, and I think we’re right there with them.”
Appearing to play tentatively and also struggling against Tennessee’s defensive pressure, Tech had trouble creating shots and did not move the ball well. The Jackets were called for 30 fouls compared to 19 on Tennessee. It was the highest foul total for Tech in Pastner’s tenure. Tech had five assists on its 16 baskets, tying for the fewest assists in a game in Pastner’s two-plus seasons.
“I think we’ve just got to handle their pressure a little bit better,” said guard Shembari Phillips, who made his return to Knoxville after playing their two seasons prior to transferring to Tech. “They really got up under us.”
As was the case against Lamar in the season opener, the Jackets tossed up a high volume of 3-pointers, but were not nearly as accurate, often shooting early in the possession or with defenders making strong challenges on the shot.
After shooting 12-for-30 from 3-point range against Lamar, the Jackets were 3-for-19 against Tennessee. They shot 16-for-58 from the field (28 percent). Alston led the Jackets in scoring for the second game in a row with 16 points, including 8-for-8 from the free-throw line.
“I think that was new for some of our guys,” Pastner said of Tennessee’s pressure. “Mike (Devoe) struggled early and he got much more comfortable as the game went on. Those are things that just going to be because we’re young and guys are going to have to get better and improve.”
Phillips, who was welcomed by Tennessee with a mix of cheers and boos prior to the game, was not at his best. Phillips scored two points in 22 minutes of play.
“Early on, it was just weird being on the other side, obviously being here for two years, and then being here at Tech,” he said. “But I’m with my newfound brothers and we fought and we’re going to learn from this.”
Tech finishes its four-game series with Tennessee with a 1-3 mark. The Jackets play next against East Carolina on Friday at McCamish Pavilion.
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