Georgia Tech tasted defeat for the ninth time in the past 10 games, this time to Virginia Tech by a 76-56 score at McCamish Pavilion on Saturday.
After a hot start, the Yellow Jackets were overtaken and subdued by the Hokies, who led by as many as 35 points before relenting. Georgia Tech (11-16, 4-10 ACC) is now assured of a losing record at the end of the regular season. Virginia Tech (19-8, 8-6) has won four games in a row in the series with the Jackets.
1. When the game was lost
Given rare playing time, backup center Sylvester Ogbonda made a jump hook to cut Virginia Tech’s lead to 25-23 with 9:30 remaining in the first half. For the remainder of the half, though, the Jackets could scarcely get out of their own way. Without point guard Jose Alvarado (out for the season with an elbow dislocation and fracture) and with only one consistent scorer on the floor (guard Josh Okogie), the offense was disjointed, stringing together possessions in which the Jackets turned the ball over or failed to create open shots.
After Ogbonda’s basket, Tech had 14 more possessions before the end of the half. Tech scored three times, on a tip-in by forward Moses Wright, a jump shot by forward Evan Cole and a dunk by Okogie. The Jackets missed the other 11 shots, which is to say they were 1-for-12 on shots that were taken beyond inches of the goal, and that isn’t entirely accurate because they actually missed two other tip-ins. Five possessions were squandered with turnovers, some of them egregious misplays with the ball.
The misses and turnovers led to at least three Virginia Tech baskets scored in transition as the Hokies stretched the lead from 25-23 to 43-29 at the half that. Given the way Georgia Tech was struggling to score, it effectively put the game out of reach. Tech is 1-11 this season when trailing at the half.
It followed a pattern set in previous losses – Florida State, Louisville, Duke and Wake Forest, among them – in which first-half lapses left Tech in deficits that they had little or no chance to overcome.
2. Defense lacking again
One of the top defenses in Division I last season, Tech continues to be shredded on defense. Coach Josh Pastner made the decision again to be aggressive on the offensive glass, which produced 14 offensive rebounds (against Virginia Tech’s 23 defensive rebounds) and 17 second-chance points, but also left the Jackets vulnerable in transition defense. The Hokies were credited with 24 fast-break points, the season high for a Georgia Tech opponent and well above the Jackets’ ACC rate of 7.9 fast-break points allowed per game.
“We just aren’t getting it done on the defensive end, bottom line, and (Saturday) was no difference,” Pastner said.
Pastner suggested that, because of the number of inexperienced players in the rotation, he may stick to one defense, rather than use the mix of schemes that was highly successful for the Jackets last season.
The Jackets’ problems hardly ended with faulty transition defense. The Hokies worked the ball in the halfcourt to produce wide-open 3-pointers and exploit breakdowns in Georgia Tech’s defense that left players open at the basket for easy layups. Virginia Tech’s 21 assists (on 28 baskets) were its season high in ACC play.
The Hokies shot 52.8 percent from the field and were 8-for-16 from 3-point range. Jackets opponents have been smoking (figuratively speaking) from 3-point range. In the past seven games, Georgia Tech opponents have made 47.3 percent of their 3-point attempts. In the Jackets’ first seven ACC games, opponents shot 28.8 percent.
Further, Virginia Tech ransacked its offensive glass, taking down 13 offensive rebounds against the Jackets’ 16 defensive rebounds, although they netted only six second-chance points. Still, offensive rebounds are often seen as products of effort.
“As a team, effort (wise), individual (wise), we’ve just got to come out as a whole team and just play together,” guard Tadric Jackson said. “Like I said, we’ve got to defend. We’ve just got to get stops. We’ve got to get stops and take away the 3 and figure out a way to win.”
3. Rough start at the point
The transition to the point has not been a smooth one for Okogie. In two games in place of Alvarado, out since his elbow injury against Duke on Sunday, Okogie has shot 7-for-27 (including 0-for-12 from 3-point range) and has an assist/turnover ratio of 2/7. Thanks to effective work from the free-throw line (a combined 16-for-18), he has still scored 30 points.
Before the past two games, Okogie was shooting 43.8 percent from the field, 41.2 percent from 3-point range, had an assist/turnover ratio of 40/38 and was averaging 19.1 points per game.
“But part of it is, you’re asking Josh to do a lot,” Pastner said. “You’re asking him to be your point guard, 2-guard, 3-guard pretty much. And go to the offensive glass.”
The two games have made clear the value that Alvarado brought to the team at both ends of the floor.
“Losing Jose, I can’t put enough emphasis on how big of a loss it is for us,” Pastner said.
4. Victory for little brother
Playing against his brother Tyrie (a redshirt freshman guard for Virginia Tech) and in front of busloads of family and friends from Tift County, Tadric Jackson had an inspired start. Jackson made his first four shots, including three from 3-point range, that helped give Georgia Tech a 14-8 lead at the 16:12 mark. The last of the four baskets was particularly eye-catching, a stepback baseline jumper from just inside the arc.
He had a rough time after that, making two of his final 13 field-goal attempts and missing his last six 3-point tries. He finished with a team-high 17 points. Tyrie had six points, got the victory over his older brother and shared a warm hug with him in the handshake line after the game. It was not such a happy reunion for Tadric.
“At the end of the day, we lost,” he said. “It’s all cool – he’s on the court, I’m on the court – but at the end of the day, we lost and we’ve got to play better.”
5. Taking a beating
It was not a good performance, particularly not one to be played in front of a sellout crowd that included several former Jackets basketball players and coaching great Bobby Cremins, there for the annual letter-winners’ game.
It was the performance of a team that has lost its point guard and likely its best 3-point shooter (Alvarado and Curtis Haywood), has moved one of its two best players (Okogie) from shooting guard to point guard and continued to ask him to score and rebound, has its other top player (center Ben Lammers) playing inconsistently on a weakened ankle while playing 35-plus minutes, has found itself in a position where it is giving double-digit minutes to two freshmen (Cole and Wright) who were not highly recruited, is struggling with confidence and is perhaps discouraged. Also, one of its assistant coaches (Darryl LaBarrie) resigned in the midst of a protracted NCAA investigation.
After the game, Pastner made an impassioned vow that the Jackets are headed toward being a regular NCAA Tournament participant.
“We’re going to get there,” he said. “I have 1,000 percent confidence it’s going to happen.”