Georgia Tech didn’t score many style points, but accumulated just enough of the standard kind to save senior night.
On a night when the offense was mostly clunky, the Yellow Jackets rode a late surge to defeat Pittsburgh 61-52 Tuesday night at McCamish Pavilion.
Tech scored on nine of its final 10 possessions, not including the last to run out the clock, to pull away from the Panthers. The 61-point total was its lowest in an ACC victory since beating Wake Forest 57-56 in Feb. 2013, according to sports-reference.com.
“Boy, did we struggle to score,” coach Josh Pastner said. “It has taken time off my life – there is no doubt about that with the struggle to score – but we’ve been able to guard and that has been our savior on that because defense travels.”
The win gave Georgia Tech (17-13 overall, 8-9 ACC) a boost to its NCAA tournament hopes. Its game at Syracuse Saturday to close the regular-season may be vital to its candidacy for the Jackets’ first NCAA appearance since 2010. Pittsburgh (15-15, 4-13) lost for the fourth time in the past five games.
The Jackets closed out the home schedule with a 15-4 mark, one win shy of the school record for most home wins in a season, set by the 2006-07 team. With a win at Syracuse, Tech would finish with a .500 record in ACC play for the first time since the same 2006-07 team.
Five observations from the game:
When the game was won
Tech was down 44-43 with 6:17 left and had lost momentum when guard Josh Okogie went to the free-throw line. He made one of two to tie the game, sending the Jackets on a high-performance offensive spree to close the game.
Over its final 10 possessions, Tech made all seven of its field-goal attempts and was 4-for-6 from the line, a pace that the Panthers could not match. From the time Okogie went to the line to game’s end, Tech closed on an 18-8 run. Okogie scored nine of the points, including a vicious slash to the basket that earned an and-one free throw, a fallaway jumper and an open-court dunk off an inbounds play for the final 61-52 score that put the game to bed with 26 seconds left.
Okogie played the final 5:17 with four fouls and made a risk/reward play with 27 seconds left and the Jackets ahead 59-52. With Pitt in possession, Okogie took a charge from Panthers guard Jamel Artis to get the ball back. Okogie scored on his dunk on the next play.
Lammers played one of his better offensive games of the second half of the ACC schedule, when his heavy minutes have likely sapped his energy level. He scored 20 points on 8-for-13 shooting and was 4-for-4 from the free-throw line. His efficiency was aided by having more uncontested shots than he has been getting of late, either by gaining excellent post position or by being set up with effective passes. Five of his eight baskets were assisted.
He hit a jumper from near the elbow that broke a 44-all tie with 5:41 to play, a score noteworthy because he has been struggling of late with his jump shot.
“It felt pretty good to finally see that go in,” he said. “My legs are getting a little tired – it’s the end of the season – but I’ve started to learn to adjust. I actually bend my knees more than normal, so hopefully I can continue making those shots in the future.”
It may have helped that he played 35 minutes, which for him is practically a night off. In Tech’s previous five games, he had played 197 out of a possible 200 minutes. Pastner gave backup Sylvester Ogbonda five minutes, three more than he had played in the previous five games combined.
Rough finish for Pittsburgh
The Panthers have experienced this defeat before, multiple times. They have lost six games in league play when they have held second-half leads. The Panthers put themselves in position to win with an 11-3 run that included back-to-back 3-pointers, eventually taking the lead at 44-43 with 6:30 to play. But rather than build on that charge, Pittsburgh only set the stage for the Jackets to take back control of the game.
During Tech’s closing run, the Panthers had back-to-back possessions when the offense opened up two clear looks at the basket for forward Shelden Jeter – but he missed a 3-pointer on one possession and a .jumper in the lane on the next, and Tech answered both times with baskets.
“It’s a little bit of a familar script for us,” Pitt coach Kevin Stallings said. “We can play most people competitively and then get to the end and we don’t execute well enough to get the job done.”
Tough on defense
Mixing up defenses per usual and playing with awareness and effort, Tech fairly locked down Pittsburgh. The Panthers shot 37.7 percent from the field, a subpar night even for a team that has taken over last place in the ACC in field-goal percentage in league games from Tech. In the first half, the Jackets forced two shot-clock violations in a span of three possessions. The Jackets now rank sixth nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency (KenPom).
Pitt’s 52 points were the fewest allowed by Tech in an ACC game since losing 52-51 to Louisville in Feb. 2015, according to sports-reference.com.
Often matched up in the post against Lammers, forward Michael Young scored a team-high 16 points, but required 14 points to get there.
“They run really good stuff and they’ve got great players, so we had to really guard,” Pastner said.
Tech honored its six seniors prior to the game – graduate transfers Kellen McCormick and Jodan Price, former walk-on forward Rand Rowland, guards Josh Heath and Corey Heyward and forward Quinton Stephens.
Announced last and accorded the loudest ovation, Stephens was off his game in the first half, finishing with five points on 2-for-7 shooting with no rebounds. Pastner said he challenged Stephens at halftime, telling him that he would be sick to his stomach years down the road if he continued to play like that in his final home game.
In the second half, Stephens came up with four points, six rebounds and three assists to help bring the Jackets home. He made an off-balance layup with 4:53 to play that gave Tech a 48-47 lead that it never relinquished.
“Boy, did he come through for us that second half,” Pastner said.
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