Josh Pastner’s (seemingly) simple mandate for Tech vs. Tennessee

You may have heard, but Georgia Tech isn’t so great on offense.

The Yellow Jackets are shooting 45.1 percent from the field, 155th nationally through Thursday’s games. In their Tuesday loss at Penn State, they were 24-for-66 (36.4 percent) and were less accurate from inside the 3-point arc (34 percent) than they were beyond it (43.8 percent). Moreover, they made just seven trips to the free-throw line and turned the ball over 17 times, which the Nittany Lions turned into 24 points and a 67-60 win in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. It’s not a surprise for a team that lost 78 percent of its scoring from last season’s team.

Coach Josh Pastner has been drilling his team, which plays at Tennessee at 1 p.m. Saturday, on a rather elementary facet of the offense — making the shots closest to the basket.

“It’s just going to continue through time,” Pastner said. “We spend much time with layups getting hit with bags. We don’t call fouls (in scrimmages). That’s all part of it, part of the growth. That’s why I think these games will be good for us. They’ll simulate the type of athleticism we’ll see in the ACC.”

Against Penn State, the Jackets shot 32 percent in the paint, according to Pastner. Against Ohio — the team’s only other loss through six games — Tech shot 41 percent. In the other four games — all wins — the Jackets were above 50 percent. Pastner said that 50 percent has to be the minimum.

Tech’s need to make shots close to the basket is heightened because Pastner has steered the Jackets away from the 3-pointer. The Jackets have attempted 73 3-pointers, which going into Friday’s games ranked 344th of 347 Division I teams. Pastner was similarly reluctant to take 3-pointers at Memphis. He’s OK with it only when players are open and their feet are set. As a result, Tech’s 3-point percentage (37 percent) isn’t bad.

“I always tell people, ‘I like 3’s, but I love layups,’” he said.

Pastner often stresses to players that they violently attack the basket, that simply driving to the basket and hoping to make the basket or draw a foul isn’t enough. A phrase he uses is “clip the hip” — to drive at the basket so directly that the ballhandler brushes the defender’s hip. Against Penn State, guard Josh Okogie, following his 38-point game against Tulane, was 5-for-21 for 13 points. Pastner said that Okogie was not as intent on attacking the rim as he ought to have been.

In the same game, “Tadric (Jackson) had three or four right at the basket that we’ve got to make,” Pastner said. “Ben Lammers had one or two right at the basket.”

Penn State is hardly a monster — the Nittany Lions were picked to finish in the bottom half of the Big Ten — but for the Jackets to have been close enough to where a few baskets could have made a difference is significant for a team that was picked to finish 14th in the ACC.

The same might be said of Tennessee. The Volunteers were picked to finish 13th in the SEC in a preseason media poll. Coach Rick Barnes’ team is 2-3, with losses to Chattanooga, No. 17 Wisconsin and No. 23 Oregon.

For Pastner, Saturday’s game is a return to an arena he twice visited with Memphis as an in-state rival, going 1-1.

“They have great crowd support, and I don’t think anything will be different (Saturday),” Pastner said. “I know we have to play a near-perfect game to have an opportunity to win.”

They can start with better shotmaking in the paint.