Georgia Tech lost for the seventh time in eight games, this time to No. 9 Duke. However, much more may have been lost in the 80-69 defeat Sunday night at McCamish Pavlion as point guard Jose Alvarado took a hard fall that resulted in a trip to the hospital.
Duke (20-5 overall, 8-4 ACC) took control from the start, grabbing a 9-0 lead and expanding to 28-10 by the 7:48 mark of the first half. Tech (11-14, 4-8) lost to the Blue Devils for the 11th time in a row. Guard Josh Okogie scored a game-high 29 points for the Yellow Jackets.
1. Key injury for the Jackets
Alvarado was lost for the game and likely much longer when he took a hard fall at the 8:14 mark of the first half. Alvarado was taken the hospital with a dislocated left elbow. Coach Josh Pastner said following the game that there is a “high probability” that he is finished for the season.
Alvarado was injured when he challenged a shot at the basket by forward Javin DeLaurier and was knocked to the ground. Alvarado was walked off the floor to applause and did not return.
Going forward without Alvarado will be, at the least, a major challenge. Alvarado was averaging 39.3 minutes going into the game in ACC play, ran the team from the point and was showing gradual improvement. Point-guard duties largely fell to Brandon Alston and Josh Okogie for the remainder of the game. Pastner said that he will determine what the team will do at point guard after meeting with the coaching staff.
Regarding backup point guard Justin Moore, who has not played a single minute in ACC play, Pastner said that he would determine what is best for the team after meeting with his staff.
Beyond that, Tech’s rotation had been reduced to six players. More playing time will likely be coming for freshman forwards Evan Cole and Moses Wright, whose playing-time prospects had dimmed so much that coach Josh Pastner had put them in what he called a redshirt program.
2. Five-stars vs. no-stars
The talent gap between Tech and Duke was on full display. The Blue Devils were faster, better with the ball and more skilled at shotmaking than the Jackets. They made their contested layups, while the Jackets more often than not did not. The swiftness and long reach of Duke players gave Tech trouble bringing the ball upcourt. The Blue Devils pounced on missed shots, quickness that resulted in 14 offensive rebounds against 23 defensive rebounds by Tech. (Duke leads Division I in offensive rebounding percentage, per KenPom).
Duke won handily without forward Marvin Bagley, a possibility to be the first pick in the NBA draft, out with a knee injury.
“Duke’s good enough to win the national championship,” Pastner said. “As much as anyone says about their defense or anything else, they are extremely, extremely talented. They’ve got a lot of really good players.”
It is hardly a surprise. Of Duke’s starting five, four were rated five-star players by ESPN as high-school prospects and one was a four-star. Of Tech’s starting lineup, there was one four-star player (Alvarado), a three-star player (center Ben Lammers) and three who did not receive a rating (guards Brandon Alston and Okogie and forward Abdoulaye Gueye).
3. More pressure, effectively applied
Duke frequently used full-court pressure, a strategy that gave Tech trouble even before Alvarado was injured. It had been a trouble spot for Tech in recent games, resulting in turnovers or disjointed possessions. Against Duke, Alvarado had at least two turnovers against the press and the Jackets also turned the ball over on a 10-second call.
Tech may see it more going forward with Alvarado out, as Alston and Okogie aren’t as adept handing the ball or as quick as Alvarado.
Somewhat unexpectedly, though, the Jackets were much better with the ball after Alvarado left. When he got hurt, Tech turned the ball over six times in its first 21 possessions. The Jackets had four turnovers in their final 50 possessions, mainly with Okogie at the point. Okogie was 7-for-18 from the field (4-for-10 from 3-point range) with six rebounds and four assists.
“I thought putting the ball in Okogie’s hands is not a bad thing to do,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “He’s just a really good player. He gives his whole team confidence.”
4. Late charge
It was too late to have a meaningful impact on the outcome, but the Jackets made a spirited run at Duke in the final 10 minutes of the game. Down by as many as 26 points, Tech reduced the lead to 12 at the 7:05 mark and again with 3:37 to play. The Jackets did it with energetic play at both ends of the floor and some flashes of promise by freshman forwards Cole and Wright.
Little used to this point in the ACC season, Cole and Wright played with grit and scored a combined 19 points and took down a combined 12 rebounds. Both, improbably, threw down putback dunks that electrified the student section.
“In this game, Josh (Pastner) probably found something,” Krzyzewski said. “He found two kids that want to play.”
Pastner said that they have earned playing time going forward, although they’ll stay in the “redshirt” program, which includes skill work and weightlifting.
“It’s made them better and they came in and did their job,” Pastner said.
When he first came into the game, Cole shot an airball and was quickly pulled. Still, it helped him get comfortable and he waited for his next chance. By the time he left the game after fouling out, the Tech student section was chanting his name, appreciative of his hustle and production.
“I was just trying to stay focused, but in the back of my head, it was pretty cool to hear that,” Cole said.
5. Another comeback try
The comeback was tantalizing, perhaps evidence of what Tech is capable of doing when at its best. It did, though, follow a pattern set in losses to North Carolina, Florida State and Louisville. In those three games also, Tech fell far behind only to make late charges that significantly cut into the lead, but not enough to actually challenge.
“Our guys always fight and compete. Even we get down, they always find a way to come back and scrap and claw and crawl and fight and kick and find a way to give ourselves a chance to get back into the game,” Pastner said. “The issue is, why we are getting down (so many points? Part of what I would tell you is because it’s a major rebuild job.”
It’s evidence of the team’s character and unwillingness to give in, but the comebacks were also likely due in part to their opponents letting their guards down with significant leads.
The comeback “actually shows the character of their program,” Krzyzewski said. “In some respects, they played the second half better.”
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