That some of coach Josh Pastner’s first words after defeating Tennessee Tech 70-55 on Friday were that his team needs to play faster probably surprised Yellow Jackets fans.
Under previous coach Brian Gregory pace was not a concern. The Yellow Jackets were glacially slow in most games, averaging just 73.2 points last season on a team filled with seniors, many of whom had been in Gregory’s system for four years. That average was by far the most since Gregory took over before the 2011-12 season.
So, when Pastner opened his first postgame news conference with this nugget in his second sentence, “I was disappointed with our pace of play; I still think we’ve got to play way faster,” it was mildly interesting, to say the least.
Among the many things that Pastner said he wants from his team this season, speed of thought, movement, passing and decision-making have been among the bullet points.
He elaborated on that again Friday night.
“I just still feel that we could be a lot faster with our pace and our cuts,” Pastner said. “It’s going to take just time and film and work. I don’t want to call a play every time down. I don’t want to, I don’t like doing that. I want our guys to be able to play with freedom within structure and be able to be a basketball player and make plays.
“With that comes a lot of responsibility, they’ve got to understand how to play the right way, how to play with freedom, how to play in attack mode and how to play with pace. Part of this year is going to be ups and downs and growing pains to be able to understand that is what we’ve got to do.”
An increased pace will likely come from increased experience.
Freshman Justin Moore ran the team in place of suspended senior Josh Heath and injured junior Tadric Jackson. Moore played 32 minutes and had four assists and one turnovers. Senior Corey Heyward also played the point and added a career-high eight points with three assists and two turnovers in 25 minutes.
Pastner said Jackson (hamstring) should return for Monday’s game against Southern at McCamish Pavilion. Heath’s suspension will last two more games after Monday’s.
“We spent so much time on pace of play and attack mode, and I felt a lot of times we were paralyzed in the way we were playing, lot of standing and not enough pace,” Pastner said. “However, we still got to 70, I would like us to get up in the 80s and 90s, but we want to win.”