Georgia Tech gave No. 1 Virginia trouble, but the Cavaliers gave a demonstration of how they’ve reached the top rung in the country. On a night when the Yellow Jackets’ challenged Virginia’s defensive standards, the Cavaliers shot 47.9 percent from the field and took advantage of its opportunities to claim a 65-54 win at John Paul Jones Arena Wednesday night.
Tech (11-17 overall, 4-11 ACC) lost its 10th game in its past 11, playing better than it has in recent efforts but making just enough mistakes to give the Cavaliers the margin it needed to clinch first place in the ACC Tournament.
1. Lammers returns to form
Center Ben Lammers played his best game since the season opener against UCLA in Shanghai. Getting fed on slips to the basket for layups, hitting jumpers and finding teammates cutting to the basket, Lammers looked more like the second-team All-ACC selection he was a year ago than at any point since the UCLA game.
Lammers sprained his ankle in the second game of the season against Bethune-Cookman and has struggled ever since. Not surprisingly, he said that his ankle felt the best it’s felt since the injury.
“I actually felt normal, which is nice,” Lammers said. “Or, at least like I can move pretty freely.”
Lammers finished with 22 points, his high in ACC play this season, on 9-for-15 shooting from the field. He added seven rebounds, two assists and a block with no turnovers. Coach Josh Pastner said that Lammers played with a “hit-first mentality.”
“Ben looked great,” guard Tadric Jackson said. “He looked like the old Ben that I know.”
Lammers also reached 1,000 career points with his last point of the night and recorded his 244th career block, passing John Salley for third place all-time in school history.
“I guess I got, like, the exact amount of stuff I needed for points, for 1,000, and exact amount of blocks to get third place,” Lammers said. “I did that on purpose.”
2. Double teaming the point
Pastner elected to have Jackson share point-guard duties with guard Josh Okogie, who had played the point on a solo basis for the previous two games since Jose Alvarado was lost for the season with an elbow dislocation and fracture in the Duke game. Okogie had a tough scoring game again – 3-for-10 for seven points – but he also had six rebounds and four assists with no turnovers. In the previous two games, he was 7-for-27 from the field and had an assist/turnover ratio of 2/7.
“Playing point guard’s no easy task,” Okogie said. “Having a team where everybody’s versatile, everybody can play more than one position is really good for us.”
Jackson played one of his better games of the season, racking up 15 points on 6-for-14 shooting, including 3-for-8 from 3-point range. He only had one assist, but Jackson showed a deft touch on bounce passes to Lammers as he slipped to the basket on screen and rolls.
“It wasn’t that bad,” Jackson said of playing the point. “I feel like I can run a team and I feel like I took my time (Wednesday).”
3. Where the game was lost
Tech stayed in the game through the first 10 minutes of the second half, as Virginia’s lead hovered between two and eight points as the Jackets repeatedly answered Virginia’s attempts to pull away. Jackson hit a 3-pointer as the shot clock expired when the deficit was eight, then hit a sweeping layup to cut the lead to three. When the lead returned to six, guard Brandon Alston scored in transition.
But, finally, at 49-45, Virginia scored on six of its next seven possessions. Starting from the 9:11 mark, it was a 14-6 run in which the Jackets just couldn’t keep pace with the Cavaliers, who subdued the Jackets with a succession of 3-pointers and free throws. By the 4:22 mark, Virginia led 63-51, which would prove its largest lead of the game and a sufficient gap.
“It was hard for us, but we hit some shots and got a few stops,” UVA coach Tony Bennett said. “And I told our guys, ‘Every possession is significant. If you don’t block out or you throw a careless pass, that can come back and get you.’”
Virginia was 7-for-14 from 3-point range.
“When they’re making 3’s like that, they’re a hard team to beat,” Pastner said.
4. Crowning achievement for Virginia
Virginia clinched the top seed in the ACC Tournament and at least a share of the conference regular-season title, improving to 25-2 overall and 14-1 in the ACC. With another win or a loss by Duke, the Cavaliers can finish first outright in the ACC regular season for the third time in the past five seasons.
The Jackets have been firsthand witnesses to Virginia’s excellence in recent seasons, having now lost six of their past seven against the Cavaliers. Of those six defeats, Wednesday’s 11-point defeat was the closest. Tech lost the other five by an average of 21.8 points per game.
“I think what makes them so good is their experience, their poise and their discipline,” Okogie said. “They don’t do things out of character. The biggest thing I would say, they don’t beat themselves. They’ll wait for you to make a mistake and capitalize on that.”
5. Not a bad effort considering
While a loss, it might have been Tech’s best 40 minutes of play, particularly considering the opponent, since the Jackets’ 69-54 win over Pitt in their fourth game of the regular season. Tech has lost 10 of the 11 since then, and shot 33.3 percent from the field in the one win, against Syracuse January 31.
Tech kept the ball moving and avoided the turnovers that the Jackets have often committed with bad decisions with the ball and that the Cavaliers often force with their quick hands and aggressive trapping. The Jackets’ six turnovers was their low in ACC play and also the lowest for a Virginia opponent this season. Virginia had been forcing 13.6 turnovers per game in ACC play, including 18 against Tech in the teams’ first meeting at McCamish Pavilion.
“Obviously, there are no moral victories,” Okogie said. “We lost, but there’s certain things we can definitely take from (Wednesday).”
Where the Jackets had been punished in the first halves of their past four games, essentially losing by halftime, Tech forced stops and matched shots with the Cavaliers, causing some unease inside John Paul Jones Arena.
“Credit to Georgia Tech and how physical they were and how they came out,” Bennett said. “We were not great (Wednesday). But that is a credit to them after having two tough losses and some injuries. We had to earn it and outlast them.”
Tech received a strong game from freshman forward Moses Wright, who was aggressive going to the glass for seven rebounds to go with six points. He and fellow freshman Evan Cole started together for the first time this season.
“Moses was really good for us,” Okogie said. “He’s had a great last 2 ½ days of practice. Judging by how he played in practice, you could kind of tell he was ready for (Wednesday).”