Georgia Tech center Ben Lammers shoots a free throw after drawing a foul against the Southern Jaguars in an NCAA college basketball game at McCamish Pavilion on Monday, Nov. 14, 2016, in Atlanta. Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com

Tech going back to high-intensity practices after Tennessee debacle

Business was slow last week for Dan Taylor.

Listening to his staff’s concerns about saving the players’ legs for two road games in a five-day period, Georgia Tech coach Josh Pastner turned down the practice intensity that he has had cranked up since the start of the preseason.

Pastner even refrained from booting players out of practice when they weren’t giving enough effort for one-minute torture sessions with Taylor, the team’s strength and conditioning coach. The result, in Pastner’s opinion? After an acceptable effort in a loss to Penn State last Tuesday, a low-energy performance in an 81-58 loss to Tennessee this past Saturday to drop to 4-3.

“That won’t ever happen again as long as I’m head coach at Georgia Tech,” Pastner said. “I don’t care if I’m the head coach for 25 years. I will not practice like that again.”

The Yellow Jackets will find out how the return to high-intensity, fast-paced practices will serve them Wednesday night, when they play at VCU. It’s probably Tech’s most rigorous test of the non-conference schedule for the Jackets. The Rams have made six consecutive NCAA tournaments and are 73-9 at home since the start of the 2011-12 season. They’ve sold out raucous E.J. Wade Arena 86 consecutive games.

Should the Jackets bring the low-wattage energy that they did to Knoxville, Tenn., defeat is almost a certainty. Tech won fewer 50-50 balls than the Volunteers, the first time this season that the Jackets didn’t win that team-charted statistic, all-important to Pastner.

Players made lackadaisical passes, didn’t show urgency in coming to meet passes, factors that led to a season-high 19 turnovers. The Jackets’ energy shortage was exacerbated by its questionable shot selection, notably several ill-advised layup attempts in heavy traffic.

“I take full responsibility,” Pastner said. “I backed off this past week and it backfired on Saturday. We might lose every game we play, but over my dead body are we not going to play to be the most energized team and play so darn hard.”

This past week, Pastner chose to do more game planning for Penn State and Tennessee and stopped practice much more frequently for teaching points. Particularly in Thursday and Friday practices before the trip to Knoxville, intensity lagged, Pastner said.

“I think we were a little tired, but I think overall, it’s more of a mindset, that we know that, Hey, we’ve got to be the first one to punch ’em in the mouth,” forward Quinton Stephens said. “That’s what Tennessee did to us.”

After the Tennessee game, Pastner and his staff decided that the team, among the least experienced in the country, would be better off using practice time to maintain its intensity than go deep on its opponent.

“It’s mostly trying to bring the energy every day instead of just to the games is one of the keys we need to focus on,” center Ben Lammers said.

Tech had its first practice for VCU on Sunday, and it was mostly spent scrimmaging. Players who did not meet Pastner’s effort standards were once again remanded to Taylor’s custody. Offending players are required to go 60 seconds on a climbing machine at 180 rpm, or else repeat it again, then have to jump back into practice without a chance to catch their breath.

“I was sending guys to Dan left and right,” Pastner said.

The Jackets will have another energy matter to handle. Final exams begin Thursday, upon the team’s late-night return from Richmond, Va. Lammers, a mechanical engineering major, had two finals scheduled for Thursday, as well as a computer project due Tuesday. One of the exams on Thursday was for a computer programming class teaching students to calculate complex equations, he said.

“It’s not going to be a fun next couple of days,” Lammers said Monday.

Further, Pastner was unsure Monday if point guard Justin Moore, who started the first six games before missing Saturday’s game with a stomach virus, would be available to play.

“If he does, great,” Pastner said. “If not, the next guy’s got to be ready to get the job done.”

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