With point guard Jose Alvarado sidelined with a sprained ankle, Georgia Tech had an opportunity Monday night to test itself without its linchpin guard.
The Yellow Jackets defeated Elon 64-41 in their home opener at McCamish Pavilion, but their ability to play effectively on offense without Alvarado is subject to question. A week after its resounding season-opening overtime win at N.C. State, Tech shot 43 percent from the field, turned the ball over 17 times and didn’t clear 30 points until 14:42 remained in the second half.
» RECRUITING: Tech adds 7-foot-1 center
On the other hand, Tech (2-0) still squeezed the life out of Elon (2-1) on defense, limiting the Phoenix to 21.6 percent shooting from the field, the second lowest rate that the Jackets have allowed in team history.
“We weren’t running our things properly like we should have,” guard Michael Devoe said. “But we had a great defensive game and we contained them a lot.”
Alvarado suffered the injury in practice last week. He watched the game at the end of the Tech bench with his lower right leg encased in a boot. Coach Josh Pastner has been loathe to take him out of games, and perhaps Monday’s game helped explain why.
Last season, even as his offensive game struggled, Alvarado averaged 34 minutes a game and totaled a team-high 1,062 minutes, including 15 games in which he played 38 or more minutes.
“It was big-time,” center James Banks said of the impact of Alvarado’s absence. “He’s a floor general for us. He’s an experienced veteran. We threw Bubba (Parham) into the fire and put him at PG, and he was able to get it going, but it was a slow start.”
Tech set its tone early, as it tried to push the pace but was loose with the ball. Within the first eight possessions, Tech had turned the ball over four times, with Alvarado’s substitution Parham making two of them. Parham had a third pass that also was not handled cleanly, but that went out of bounds off an Elon player.
After his second turnover, a pass on the fast break that was too hot and a little behind and deflected out of bounds off the intended target, Pastner yelled from the bench, “Come on, Bubba!”
That was only the start. The Jackets shot 7-for-23 (30 percent) from the field in the first half with 10 turnovers. With 17 turnovers Monday, Tech has 35 in two games, compared to 27 for the opposition.
“We’ve got to be better on taking care of the ball,” Pastner said. “That’s just been a thing of ours in all of our exhibition games and our two games. We’ve just turned it over at just such a high clip. We’ve got to be better about that.”
For the game, Tech was 20-for-53 from the field. Take out Devoe’s superior scoring game — 7-for-11 from the field, 3-for-6 from 3-point range, 5-for-6 from the free-throw line for a game-high 22 points — and his teammates were 13-for-42.
Parham was 2-for-6 from the field and 1-for-4 from 3-point range. Freshman guard Asanti Price was 2-for-8 from the field and 1-for-6 from 3-point range. The two were 1-for-6 on 3-point shooting against N.C. State.
“They just need to get hot in a game on their 3-point shots,” Pastner said. “They’re stuck right now with their shooting.”
To Tech’s credit, though, the offensive labors did not infect its play on defense. The Jackets contested shots, used their length and were particularly effective in limiting and challenging Elon’s 3-point shooting. At one point midway through the first half, Elon missed 15 consecutive field-goal tries.
A 13-0 run in that span to take a 17-6 lead helped to begin securing the game for the Jackets, but it was an ungainly getaway. Tech got its 13 points on 5-for-15 shooting (2-for-5 from the free-throw line) with two turnovers in a 15-possession segment.
For Tech, to have the discipline to play such effectiveness on the defensive end while flailing on offense was perhaps an indication of the maturity of Pastner’s fourth team.
“We didn’t think (Elon) was a joke, because we know in this age of basketball, anybody can beat us,” said Banks, who had six blocks and seven rebounds to go with 11 points. “So we played ’em serious, we played ’em tough on defense. Offensively, it wasn’t going well for us, but we were able to fall back on our defense and who we are, and that’s who we’ve got to be.”
Even as Parham and Price couldn’t find the range on their shots, they combined for 15 defensive rebounds. Not much delights Pastner more than defensive rebounding by guards.
“Those are winning type of plays,” Pastner said.
Forward Khalid Moore was again a difference maker with eight points, nine rebounds, five assists and three steals.
Tech’s offense came around slightly in the second half, when the Jackets shot 43 percent. They scored 23 of their 64 points in the final 10 minutes of the game. Every eligible player except forward Kristian Sjolund played. Pastner said that the sophomore is considering redshirting this season.
Tech will have a week to prepare for its annual matchup with Georgia, next Wednesday in Athens.
“We’ve got to get better,” Pastner said. “We’ve got to keep improving, so this’ll give us time to get improved and keep improving.”
Note: The game was a homecoming for Elon head coach Mike Schrage, who grew up a diehard Tech fan as his father, Daniel, was a professor at the school. Schrage said he attended nearly every home basketball game between 1984 and 1990.
Schrage thanked Pastner in his postgame comments for helping set up the game after he got the job at Elon last April.
The Elon roster also had two metro Atlantans, guards Hunter McIntosh (Greater Atlanta Christian) and Marcus Sheffield (Chattahoochee High), who led the Phoenix with 12 points.
“Some other places I’ve been at would certainly strike a chord, too, but it meant a lot to play here (Monday),” Schrage said. “Wish we hit a few more shots.”
Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.
Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.