Georgia Tech’s trip to China included several positives, but it won’t include a victory. In their season opener, the Yellow Jackets were competitive with No. 21 UCLA, but lost 63-60 on Saturday in the third annual Pac-12 China game.
Coach Josh Pastner’s team had two chances in its final possession to tie the score, but both 3-point attempts were off the mark. Tech had come back from an 11-point deficit and reduced the lead to two points with 19.9 seconds remaining, but couldn’t close the final gap.
After arriving last Saturday, the Jackets will fly out of Shanghai early Sunday afternoon and, with the time change, are scheduled to arrive in Atlanta on Sunday evening.
Five observations from the game:
1. Tech was looking for a measuring stick after heavy losses to graduation and the infusion of four freshmen. There’s little reason for discouragement in the loss. Without two of their top three players (Josh Okogie and Tadric Jackson, both withheld because of NCAA rules violations), the Jackets nearly knocked off a perennial NCAA tournament team, though it bears mention that the Bruins were without three players of their own. Further, the Jackets did so despite not being near top form.
Their defense was inconsistent, particularly in stopping the ball, and the offense moved the ball tentatively in the first half, as might be expected of a first game. And, taking center Ben Lammers out of the equation, the team shot 9-for-40 from the field.
After Okogie was lost with his dislocated finger and then Tech’s decision to withhold him and Jackson, it seemed the opener was a lost cause. But, against a team that put five four- or five-star players on the court Saturday, Tech was essentially its equal.
“I’m really encouraged by our group,” Pastner said.
2. Lammers showed another level of offensive play after his breakout junior season a year ago. The preseason All-ACC pick torched the Bruins for 24 points on 11-for-18 shooting. Lammers was particularly impressive making a couple of tough reverses. He was 8-for-8 in the first half, mixing in jumpers with shots in the paint.
His scoring total was the game high, as were his 10 rebounds. And, in typical Lammers fashion, he added an assist, a block, two steals, didn’t commit any fouls and played 38 minutes. A good start to his senior season.
“It’s always good, especially in the first game, to see the ball go in a few times to get the confidence up,” Lammers said.
It was pretty clear that his summer was well spent developing his shot-making ability around the basket.
“He has really improved in his scoring around the hoop,” Pastner said. “That is the biggest improvement that he’s made.”
3. In his first career game, point guard Jose Alvarado stood out. He showed no fear and made a number of plays that showed he can handle this level of play. Anticipating well, he jumped UCLA passing lanes for two steals. He made two huge 3-point shots down the stretch, one that cut the lead to five with 2:38 left and the other with 19.9 seconds left to keep the Jackets in the game at 62-60. He moved the ball well, played angles and communicated. For someone in his first game, it was an impressive show of guts and ability.
His final line: 12 points with three assists, seven rebounds, two steals and no turnovers in 28 minutes. Pastner was particularly pleased with Alvarado’s six rebounds
Alvarado said he had butterflies at first, “but besides that it was fine.”
4. While it’s only one game, it may well be the case that Tech will continue to struggle on offense. The Jackets shot 20-for-58 (34.5 percent). As was often Tech’s failing last season, the Jackets missed a number of close-range shots. Guard Justin Moore and forward Moses Wright were both 0-for-6 and guard Brandon Alston was 2-for-9.
Alston, a graduate transfer from Lehigh, compensated by getting to the line eight times, with six makes for 10 points. But he also turned the ball over six times, often having good intent but forcing the action.
“We missed a lot of (layups and fast-break chances),” Pastner said, “and then the second thing, Brandon and (freshman Curtis Haywood) had good looks from 3 at different parts of the second half to give us the lead and we missed ’em. We could never get over the hump to get us the lead.”
5. While likely not as many in number as the Pac-12 would have liked, the 4,011 fans got a pretty good show. The conference aim was to showcase an American college basketball game experience and, besides the lack of a pep band, it was pretty close to the mark. Both teams brought cheerleaders and mascots, contests on the court during timeouts and a halftime show and a fan giveaway (T-shirts).
Pastner did his part. In the postgame news conference, a Chinese reporter made the observation to Pastner that he seemed to shout a lot and inquired what he was saying.
“It’s not that I shout or yell, I just believe in energy,” he said. “And I want our team to play so hard and compete because it’s our only way to survive and have a chance to win.”
The game-production staff, in an apparent attempt to bridge cultures, tried a “Single Ladies Cam” feature on the video board, perhaps a nod to the fact that Saturday was “Singles Day” in China. The cameras found little girls mixed in with adult women, though.
The attendance was lower by about 3,000 than the first two Pac-12 China games. Saturday’s game was played in a much smaller arena, with a capacity of roughly 6,000, but it was farther away from the city center.
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