Khalid Moore’s expansive role critical for Jackets

The highlight of Georgia Tech's young season is probably James Banks' two free throws with 2.1 seconds left in overtime that lifted the Yellow Jackets over N.C. State 82-81 in the season opener at PNC Arena.

But for two separate plays by Tech forward Khalid Moore in the moments that preceded it, however, Banks’ free throws probably wouldn’t have happened. That’s the role that coach Josh Pastner wants the sophomore from Briarwood, N.Y., to fill, which Moore has through two games.

“Khalid’s been really good,” Pastner said. “He’s done a really nice job with things that haven’t shown up in the box score.”

For Tech to have a shot at beating rival Georgia Wednesday in Athens and ending the Bulldogs’ four-game winning streak in the annual series, the Jackets will need Moore’s “glue guy” contributions.

“Pretty much just doing anything I can to help my team win, whether it’s on the defensive end or the offensive end,” Moore said of his role. “Rebounds, assists, try to get people the ball, just bringing energy to the game. Doing anything I can to win.”

Mostly a sub last season, Moore has started in Tech’s first two games and his numbers speak to the value that he has provided — 19 points, 13 rebounds, nine steals and eight assists against five turnovers. His 4.5 steals-per-game average leads the ACC. Among other things, Moore can run the floor, penetrate, defend the perimeter, find the open man, rebound, shoot from 3-point range and dig out loose balls.

“He’s been graded at a high level,” Pastner said. “He’s done a very nice job. Very proud of him.”

His play at the end of the overtime win speaks to his discharging his role. With about 23 seconds left in overtime and Tech down 81-80, guard Jose Alvarado drove to the basket but lost the ball trying to slip it to Banks. N.C. State guard Devon Daniels dribbled up the right wing with Moore in pursuit. When Daniels made an ill-advised cross-court pass that was mishandled and rolled into the opposite corner, Moore pursued and hopped on the 50-50 ball, then passed to guard Michael Devoe with about 12 seconds to play.

Devoe passed ahead to Alvarado and Moore raced to the frontcourt, the long strides of his 6-foot-7 frame gobbling up hardwood. When Alvarado’s left-wing 3-pointer missed, Moore was in position to extend high with his 7-foot-5  wingspan and pull down the ball with six seconds left. With three Wolfpack players crowding him, he had the presence of mind to not rush up a shot in traffic, but slip a wraparound pass to Banks, who went up and was fouled, setting up the game-winning free throws.

It was a non-highlight highlight reel, a tribute to hustle, smarts and springy legs.

“I was doing whatever I can,” Moore said. “I got the rebound and there was some time left and I saw James open and I just hit him for the last-second shot.”

Moore’s productivity can be attributed to the returns on a year of experience, but also gains made in the weight room with strength and conditioning coach Dan Taylor. Assessing his body and needs in concert with Pastner and making use of the P3 physiological assessment technology that Tech uses at the Hawks training complex, Taylor prescribed a summer of gaining strength in both upper and lower body and gaining mass.

Arriving at 188 pounds in the summer of 2018, Moore had quickness and flexibility, but needed to be better equipped to handle the rigors of the ACC.

“In general, if we can get a little more force immediately off the floor and more body armor in terms of muscle mass, it’s going to help him when he’s trying to finish the way he did in high school,” Taylor told the AJC.

Moore bulked up to 205 pounds and at the same time increased his standing vertical from 24 to 27 inches, meaning he is coming off the floor with significantly more force than he did last season.

Moore described the changes as “running faster, jumping higher, being able to finish through contact, not being affected by all of these little bumps and taps that you might have been affected by before.”

That resilience might be reflected in his free throws. Last year, he shot a free throw once every eight minutes. In two games, the rate is one free throw per 4.1 minutes.

Not a ballyhooed recruit coming out of Archbishop Molloy (the alma mater of Tech legend Kenny Anderson), Moore could prove a prize find for Pastner and his staff.

Against Georgia, he’ll be asked to help slow down a Bulldogs team that has averaged 95.3 points per game and to use his length and quickness to challenge highly-touted freshman Anthony Edwards.

And, probably, whatever else he can to aid the cause.

“Just doing whatever I can to win,” Moore said.