Observations, quotes and stats from Georgia Tech’s 72-60 loss to Clemson on Wednesday night at Littlejohn Coliseum.
1. When the game was lost
After Clemson scored the first 14 points of the game, the Yellow Jackets closed the gap to 35-30 at halftime with a closing 10-0 run. It would make the first few minutes of the second half critical. And then the Jackets backslid and the game got out of reach in a hurry.
Clemson, first possession: A defensive breakdown on Clemson’s opening possession generated a dunk by Elijah Thomas for a 37-30 lead.
Tech first possession: The Jackets move casually, guard Jose Alvarado tries to create with the clock running down and is blocked at the basket trying to shoot over forward David Skara.
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Clemson, second possession: Forward Aamir Simms scores over forward Evan Cole on a tough shot in the lane. 39-30.
Tech, second possession: Guard Michael Devoe has a good look from the corner, but misses and Tech retains possession. Alvarado makes a nice cut and gets a pass from guard Curtis Haywood, but can’t hold on. The Jackets keep possession, but Alvarado tries a jumper over Skara and shoots an airball.
Clemson, third possession: Guard Marcquise Reed finds a gap in the 2-3 zone and drives to the basket and hits a short jumper over Banks’ challenge. Reed had had two tough back-to-back shooting games – a combined 8-for-27 against Syracuse and Virginia, but was hot against Tech. He finished 10-for-13 (2-for-3 from 3-point range) and was 8-for-8 from the line to boot for a career-high 30 points. 41-30.
Tech, third possession: Banks has good position in the post but airballs a jump hook.
In three possessions, a 6-0 run for Clemson got the lead back to 11. It got as high as 15 later in the half but never lower than eight. The crazy thing is that, after those first three possessions, the Jackets were 12-for-17 from the field, which is bananas. But none of them were 3-pointers and they also turned the ball over six times in 28 possessions. They were also 6-for-12 from free-throw line.
Meanwhile for Clemson, Simms made two 3’s and scored 10 points and Thomas added nine as the Tigers shot 13-for-24 (54.2 percent) for the half. They were 4-for-8 from 3-point range and 7-for-10 from the line.
In short, Tech’s defense wasn’t great, and the offense failed at the start of both halves. That was enough for Clemson.
2. Streak continues
That was Clemson’s 14th consecutive win over the Jackets at either Littlejohn Coliseum or the Tigers’ temporary homecourt in the 2015-16 season in Greenville, S.C. That’s pretty remarkable. The Jackets last beat Clemson at Littlejohn in 2015. (Random fact: My family and I are friends with descendants of the arena’s namesake.)
Clemson coach Brad Brownell actually had a 10-game winning streak against Tech between the 2009-10 and 2013-14 seasons. Further, a lot of Clemson’s wins in that streak have been decisive. Eight of the wins out of the 14 consecutive wins for Clemson have been by double digits.
It’s not great for the resume, and it’s a credit to Brownell, who replaced Oliver Purnell before the 2010-11 season. He’s 14-3 against Tech in the regular season and 54-73 against the rest of the ACC.
In the same span, Tech is 45-82 against the rest of the league (.354), which isn’t exactly hitting it out of the park, but is twice as good as against Clemson. Strange. (If you don’t want to do the math, that’s 48-96 overall in ACC regular-season games starting with the 2010-11 season, which was Paul Hewitt’s last. Not great.)
3. Bad timing
This is easy to say in hindsight, but this was bad timing for Tech. Going into the game, Clemson was 0-3 in the ACC with losses at Duke, at Syracuse and home against Virginia. The Tigers, who record aside have a pretty good roster, were likely playing with some heightened desperation. It was not a great time to catch them.
It’s not unlike the circumstances with Tech’s road win at Syracuse. The Orange were 48 hours from going to Duke, and the Blue Devils may have had a little more of their attention than coach Jim Boeheim might have hoped. Pastner even said as much after the game.
Now add to Clemson’s readiness the fact that Tech was having to feel its way through a little bit with its late lineup change. It doesn’t mean the Jackets should have been so ineffective, particularly at the start of both halves, but it becomes a little more understandable.
4. Roster shortened
The playing future of forward Abdoulaye Gueye and guard Brandon Alston is unusually murky. Pastner said that Gueye is out with “an unspecified medical injury” while Alston did not travel with the team because of a personal reason.
Gueye did travel with the team and was expected to play until Tuesday evening as the team was arriving to Clemson. It’s related to the muscle cramps that he suffered against Virginia Tech and Syracuse, according to the team. Pastner is typically forthright about injuries, but he wasn’t in this case and he was also uncertain about Gueye’s prognosis – saying he could be out for the season.
It perhaps goes without saying that losing Gueye for any amount of time, but especially for the rest of the season, would be a tough hit. He gives the Jackets about 15 minutes a game (he played a total of 50 against Virginia Tech and Syracuse), defends well and can score around the basket.
Without him, that means Banks may get stretched even more (he played 32 minutes against Clemson, four more than his average, and that was despite foul trouble) and his backup would be Sylvester Ogbonda, who was pretty solid on defense against Clemson, but is not as good a scorer as Gueye. Plus, Pastner had begun using Banks and Gueye together, and they were working well.
As for Alston, Pastner called it a “day-to-day” situation, which is likewise nebulous and declined to say more about specifics. Alston has developed into a valuable bench player with some scoring punch. He’d be missed without question. It would reduce Pastner’s options and combinations and, given how players can run hot and cold, it would lower the odds of being able to ride a player who’s giving good minutes.
And, finally, it’s not clear if Alvarado will be ready to play against Louisville on Saturday after tweaking his groin muscle late in the game, or, if he does play, if he’ll be at 100 percent. Alvarado is probably as close as Tech has to an indispensable player. In short, it’d be tough for the Jackets to win without him.
Guard Michael Devoe: “Most teams’ strategy is to get the ball out of my and (Alvarado’s) hands. They did that pretty well (Wednesday).”
Jose Alvarado: “They just came out and played hared on us. They proved it and they showed it and we needed to come out with a fire like Virginia Tech or Syracuse. We need to come out with that same energy every game. We can’t just think everyone is going to be a walk in the park. We’ve got to come out with good energy.”
Josh Pastner: “James Banks has to anchor us. And there’s been games where he’s just outstanding and then other games where he gets a little bit lost and we need him to be consistent and being outstanding for us for our team to have the success that we need.”