Georgia Tech returned to .500 (8-8 overall, 3-3 in the ACC) with its 71-52 win over Boston College Saturday in Chestnut Hill, Mass. Forward Moses Wright led with 18 points and 10 rebounds, his sixth double-double of the season.
Takeaways from the game:
1. When the game was won
Tech made a game-turning surge late in the first half. Up 19-16 with 4:25 left in the half, the Jackets scored 12 of the next 19 points to extend the lead to 31-23 at the half.
It was noteworthy for a couple reasons. One, Tech has not finished (or started) first halves of games well this season. The Jackets had trailed at the half in 12 of their 15 games before Saturday. Most recently, Tech was ahead 20-19 with nine minutes left against Duke last Wednesday, but turned the ball over nine times and let the Blue Devils get ahead 40-29 at the half.
The lapse against Duke set the stage for the second half, when Tech made a push to take back the lead, but coach Josh Pastner felt compelled to keep in center James Banks, forward Moses Wright and guards Jose Alvarado and Michael Devoe for all or virtually all of the second half, which likely played a factor in the team missing its final 11 shots of the game when the outcome was still undetermined. Saturday’s run at the end of the first half instead put Tech in control, freeing Pastner to be more flexible with substitutions and perhaps infusing the Jackets with confidence.
Two, Banks scored the final eight points of the half, showing assertiveness and productivity that he hasn’t always displayed. He scored on a jump hook from the baseline, backed down B.C. forward Steffon Mitchell for a lay-in, scored on an alley-oop dunk on a lob from Alvarado and then on a reverse.
The last was a well-run possession. Devoe dribbled into the lane from the right side and slipped a pass to forward Evan Cole cutting along the baseline in the opposite direction. Cole passed up what would have been a tough shot and dribbled through to the right side.
Banks posted on the low block, defended by forward C.J. Felder on his right side. Banks sealed Felder away from the basket, and Cole fed him a bounce pass along the baseline, enabling him to slide under the basket and score for the 31-23 halftime lead.
2. Banks answers challenge
Banks was responding to a challenge from coaches for him and Wright to impose their will on Boston College’s front.
“That’s what we were doing, imposing our will,” Banks said. “And imposing our will is on the boards, it’s blocking shots and, of course, that’s dominating down low. So that’s what I did, just really trying to pull away right there.”
The eight points Banks scored in that three-minute stretch equaled or exceeded his scoring output in seven of the Jackets’ first 15 games. He finished with 13 on 5-for-7 shooting, five rebounds and four blocks. In the past three games, Banks is averaging 13 points, nine rebounds and 4.3 blocks.
Earlier in the season, Banks said, “I was feeling off a little bit in my intensity, just little things, but anytime anybody sees me in the paint, hopefully they have a hard time, and that’s what I’m going to bring.”
3. Strong in the paint
Tech limited Boston College to 18 points in the paint, the second lowest total by an opponent this season and well below the season average of 28.4. Felder, often matched up against Banks, was 3-for-12 from the field but was 7-for-8 for 13 points. The Eagles were 8-for-21 on layup/dunk tries compared to 16-for-26 for the Jackets.
Boston College coach Jim Christian said that he liked the spots that Felder got the ball, but called Banks “a great rim protector. If you’re going into his body and trying to jump over him, it’s never going to happen. We did a really poor job of trying to get him off balance, shot faking him, trying to play angle. C.J.’ll learn. He’s a freshman. It’s his first time through. He’s used to jumping over people. He’s not going to be able to do that in this league.”
(This would have been a nice time for Christian to borrow Pastner’s “get old and stay old” monologue — the Eagles started three freshmen — but he did not.)
4. Better with the ball
After turning the ball over a combined 10 times against Duke, Alvarado, Devoe and guard Bubba Parham had a combined six against Boston College, a team that is in the top 40 nationally in turnovers forced per game. (As a team, the Jackets had 15 turnovers, which is better, but still too many.)
Alvarado showed his value and why he was so missed when he was out with an ankle injury. He controlled the tempo, made good decisions with the ball and finished with eight assists against one turnover, tying his career assist high set against North Carolina last Saturday. He impacted the game without scoring much — nine points on 2-for-7 shooting.
Parham came up with six rebounds, all defensive, tying his season high. He made his only 3-pointer, a stepback jumper early in the second half that closed a 6-0 run that tamped down the Eagles’ hopes of a comeback.
5. Productive night for Usher
Wing Jordan Usher had a stat line that Pastner might take for the rest of the season — three turnovers, but 5-for-7 shooting, 3-for-3 from the line, six rebounds and two assists. After getting challenged by Pastner to do more off the ball and on the offensive glass in particular, Usher followed through. He had one offensive rebound, adding to the four he’d obtained through his first seven games.
He was diverse in his contributions, particularly showing up in the second half. He threw down a dunk on the break on a feed from Parham. On the ensuing Eagles possession, he quickly converged on guard Jared Hamilton after he caught a pass on the wing, apparently startling him and causing a travel. (Usher was very pleased, pumping both fists in approval.) He dribbled into the lane and exploited a breakdown to feed Wright for a dunk. He scored an and-one basket on Tech’s next possession. He delivered a pass to Banks, who got fouled on the shot for free throws.
On Boston College’s next possession, he was first to a rebound on the floor and quickly started the break, dribbling behind his back and slipping a bounce pass to Devoe, who scored and was fouled. He kept alive a possession by tipping a rebound that was collected by Devoe. Alvarado finished the possession with a 3-pointer.
It’s the sort of high-energy play that Pastner had been touting prior to his becoming eligible in mid-December. The two had had a long talk Thursday.
“I just went to coach and asked him, ‘How can I affect winning the most?’ ” Usher said. “And he told me exactly what I needed to do. What makes me good is I can hustle and get rebounds and I needed to do more of it. It’s something I haven’t been doing. It’s something I plan on continuing to do and helping my team win.”
6. What the win means
On paper, it was hardly a jaw-dropping result. The Eagles, a team of uncertain quality, were significantly weakened by injury. The home-court advantage was negligent. Owing some to Tech’s defense but also to its own poor offensive play, Boston College played one of its weakest games of the season at both ends.
But, it was significant for this. It was the Jackets’ second road win in a row, something that hasn’t happened in ACC play since the 2007-08 season, when they won three in a row away from Alexander Memorial Coliseum. While Boston College is not a powerhouse, Tech has lost a lot of winnable road games to mediocre opponents.
Further, Tech won going away, not suffering a second-half lapse to give Boston College a chance. The Jackets led by eight at the half, saw the lead drop to seven and countered with the aforementioned 6-0 run to push the lead back to 13. The Eagles never got closer than 10 after that.
“Coach has really been stressing putting together 40 minutes, and that’s what we tried to do — put together 40 minutes, put together two halves, and I think we did a good job of that (Saturday),” Banks said.
Tech is now 3-1 on the road in ACC play (wins over N.C. State, North Carolina and Boston College, loss to Florida State) with a fourth road win over Hawaii. Time will tell how that is to be read, but it bodes well, at least. Tech was 1-8 on the road in the league in each of Pastner’s first three seasons.
“It’s a good step for our program to have four road wins at this point of the season,” Pastner said. “Not easy to do.”
7. What’s next
Tech plays Notre Dame Wednesday and Virginia Saturday, both at home. Both will be strong tests, but are winnable. Notre Dame is 10-6 overall but 1-4 in the ACC, though three of the four losses were by five points or less. Virginia is 11-4 and 3-2 in the league. While the defending national champions and playing its typically unyielding defense, the Cavaliers are 14th in the league in offensive efficiency. (Tech is 13th.)
Tech could play well and lose both games or split, but that’s obviously not going to do much for its NCAA tournament hopes.
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