A group photo of the Georgia Tech men's basketball team with the team of Spanish professionals selected to play the Yellow Jackets August 10, 2019, in Barcelona, Spain. (Photo courtesy Mike Stamus, Georgia Tech Athletics)

4 observations from Georgia Tech’s first basketball exhibition in Spain

On the second day of its trip to Spain, Georgia Tech saw some of the results of its summer workouts pay off in an exhibition game in Barcelona.

The Yellow Jackets, with transfers Bubba Parham and Jordan Usher contributing, cruised to a 99-78 win over a team of Spanish professionals Saturday.

Four observations from the game:

1. With its first opportunity to put its up-tempo game into practice against another opponent, Tech was effective and consistent in pushing the pace. Coach Josh Pastner has made a point in summer workouts to develop an up-tempo game to create easier scoring opportunities, critical for a team that ranked last in the ACC in adjusted offensive efficiency.

“We tried to play faster and push it up the floor,” said Pastner, speaking by phone from Barcelona. “That’s been a point of emphasis for us.”

Against the Spanish team, consisting of players selected by the Spanish basketball federation, the Jackets were often successful with throw-ahead passes to teammates running hard downcourt, passes that aren’t always the wisest play, but found their targets Saturday.

In the second quarter, Parham ran down a rebound, took one dribble and, from perhaps two steps beyond the 3-point arc, threw ahead to forward Evan Cole in the lane, a pass of about 60 feet. Cole was defended well, but the delivery was pinpoint, and Cole scored on a layup and was fouled.

In the third quarter, Parham again initiated after a turnover, crossing the halfcourt line and throwing a cross-court pass over the heads of two players to Usher, who found Cole filling the lane for a dunk. Both possessions took nine seconds or fewer.

Tech scored its 99 points in 36 minutes of play, as the third and fourth quarters were shortened to eight minutes each. Pastner noted that the competition hardly was the level of what the Jackets will see in ACC play, but “a game like this two years ago, we might have scored 80, 75. That’s a good sign for us.”

2. The Jackets lit it up from 3-point range with 14 3-pointers. (Statistics beyond field goals, free throws and fouls were not recorded in the casual game setting.) Guard Michael Devoe had four 3-pointers while forward Kristian Sjolund and guards Jose Alvarado, Shembari Phillips and Parham had two each.

Better 3-point shooting has been another point of emphasis for Tech, which was 331st in 3-point field-goal percentage last season at 30.7%. Saturday, 3-pointers were scored both in the half-court offense and transition.

Many were made from well beyond the international 3-point line of 22 feet, 1-3/4 inches, which is the distance that Division I is adopting this season. The college 3 had been 20-9.

“There were some deep ones, but they can shoot it,” Pastner said. “I’m giving them a green light to fire it.”

3. In their exhibition debuts, Parham and Usher contributed as advertised. Usher drove to the basket to score in traffic – something Tech has had difficulty doing effectively in recent season – while playing with energy and showing a nice passing touch. While Parham’s most noted skill is his 3-point shooting ability, he also created baskets by finding open teammates.

“I thought he was good the first half,” Pastner said of Parham. “He needs to put two halves together. I though the second half he was just OK.”

Usher, who will be eligible after the fall semester, scored nine while Parham added eight. Parham has applied for an immediate-eligibility waiver from the NCAA. (Cole and Devoe led the team in scoring with 14 each.)

Usher and Parham mostly played with the second five. Pastner started guards Jose Alvarado, Michael Devoe and Shembari Phillips, forward Khalid Moore and center James Banks. The second five were forward Kristian Sjolund, freshman guard Asanti Price, Usher, Parham and Cole. Pastner generally subbed out the entire lineup midway through the quarters.

While his three leading scorers – Alvarado, Banks and Devoe – were on the first unit, Pastner said there was “no rhyme or reason” to the arrangement.

4. The Jackets were not as sharp in the second half as they were in the first, perhaps because of fatigue from the game’s pace and jet lag, and perhaps the widening score. The team landed in Barcelona on Friday morning, spent the whole day sightseeing before playing its game Saturday, started at 11 a.m. local time and played without media timeouts.

Among the sights visited Friday was the Sagrada Familia, the iconic Gaudi-designed basilica that receives more than 3 million visitors per year. Or, as Pastner called it, “the big church.”

After Saturday’s game, there were plans to visit the beach. Sunday’s itinerary includes a trip to Camp Nou, the world-famous stadium of FC Barcelona.

“You don’t have anything else to do but to be with each other,” Pastner said. “I think that’s been good for all of us.”

Among those on the trip are Tech legend Roger Kaiser and his wife, Beverly. Former captain Quinton Stephens, who played last season in Spain and remained in the country after the season, also joined the team upon its arrival.

The team plays its second game at noon ET Sunday.

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