Georgia Tech had a chance to pick up another win to make the NCAA tournament selection committee take notice, but returned home emptyhanded.
The Yellow Jackets fell 70-61 to Miami Wednesday night at the Watsco Center, a game in which they were particularly overcome at the foul line (three free throws to Miami’s 27), on the glass (two offensive rebounds in 28 opportunities) and, despite shooting a healthy 48.1 percent, by ineffective offense.
“We got our butts kicked on the glass,” coach Josh Pastner said. “I do know that if Miami shoots 27 free throws and we shoot three, it’s awfully hard for us to win a game.”
Tech (15-11 overall, 6-7 ACC) missed an opportunity to secure an impressive road win and is now 2-8 away from McCamish Pavilion, including 1-6 in ACC play. Miami (17-8, 7-6 ACC) shot 55.3 percent from the field, becoming just the second ACC team to shoot better than 46.4 percent against Tech.
Five observations from the game:
Where the game was lost
Down 38-32 at halftime, the Jackets made a run at Miami early in the second half. Tech scored on five of its first six possessions, tying the game at 43 when guard Corey Heyward made a hustle play to create a turnover and forward Quinton Stephens hit a 3-pointer at the other end. Four possessions later, guard Josh Okogie knocked down a 3-pointer off a feed from Josh Heath for a 46-45 lead.
“We just tried to chip away one possession at a time,” said Okogie, who scored a team-high 18 points on 7-for-11 shooting, including 4-for-5 from 3-point range. “After that three, I just felt, ‘We can win.’”
However, the Jackets went scoreless on the next four possessions, including an Okogie layup that fell off the rim and a wide-open 3-point try by Stephens, giving Miami the space for a 7-0 run to take back the lead. The Hurricanes led the rest of the way.
“We just had three or four empty possessions there that, they were making their 3’s and we weren’t,” Pastner said.
Tech was not playing under ideal circumstances. Center Ben Lammers (ankle), Stephens (ankle) and Okogie (knee) didn’t practice Monday or Tuesday due to injuries.
The handicap of not having three key starters participate in the on-court preparation for a tough opponent was likely a factor.
“I just think it’s hard when guys don’t practice to really keep in rhythm, but it is what it is,” Pastner said. “Guys have got to get it done.”
Lammers said that the ankle injury limited his explosiveness and quickness, probably a factor in his missing some shots he normally makes and securing only three rebounds, a season low and well below his 9.7 rebounds-per-game average. Stephens said that his lateral movement was affected. Okogie said his knee was sore.
The three contributed a total of 108 of the team’s 200-minute total.
Huge disparity at the line
Miami went to the line 27 times, seven of those free throws in the final 1:11 when Tech began to foul to stop the clock and gain extra possessions. The Jackets took three free throws, a season low and well below their season average of 21.5 free throws per game. While Miami was more effective driving to the basket and more active on the glass, it was nonetheless a considerable disparity.
Going back to the 2010-11 season, there have been just 16 instances in which one team took three or fewer free throws and the other took 27 or more, according to sports-reference.com. Only three were between two power-conference teams. The fewest free throws that Tech had attempted in that span was four in a Feb. 2012 loss at Boston College.
“It is what it is,” Pastner said. “We had three, they had 27. That’s the first time I’ve been in that (situation) in my entire life. Hopefully it’s the last time.”
Tech had not attempted only three free throws in a game since a Jan. 2000 to Kentucky.
Highly efficient Hurricanes
Regardless of the free-throw differential, Miami scored on the Jackets in a way that few opponents have. The Hurricanes were 21-for-38 from the field (55.3 percent, a hair under the 55.7 percent that Duke dropped on the Jackets in January). The Hurricanes frequently broke down the Jackets off the dribble to get to the basket for layups and drop-offs. Guard Davon Reed was 8-for-11 from the field, including 3-for-4 from 3-point range.
“They do a lot of ball screening, creating mismatches,” Okogie said. “So they’re really good at getting to the basket, keeping the big man in rotation to clear the paint so they can penetrate, throw lobs. They’ve got great big men that like to dive to the basket and they did a good job of including everybody in their offense.”
Tech came into the game second in the ACC in field-goal percentage defense at 39.9 percent.
Miami did it, too, without starting point guard Ja’Quan Newton, whose three-game suspension for a violation of team rules was announced 20 minutes before tipoff. Newton came into the game as the team’s second-leading scorer at 15 points a game while averaging a team-high 3.6 assists.
“I say sometimes a great player goes out, and it actually helps the team, because someone else gets more shots,” Pastner said. “I don’t know if Reed would have played as well (Wednesday) beacuse Newton would have taken some shots and who knows what would have happened?”
A win would have been significant for the Jackets’ NCAA tournament chances. Tech has five wins over RPI top-50 teams (North Carolina, Florida State, Notre Dame, VCU and Clemson), but four of them took place at McCamish Pavilion. Significant road wins are one criteria that the selection committee uses to evaluate teams.
Tech fought back into the game to take a brief lead in the second half and had no lack of missed opportunities, particularly with missed layups. Miami was shorthanded. The opportunity was there.
“I think we had a chance to kind of help secure our position a little more and we didn’t take advantage,” Lammers said. “It’s hard to steal a win on the road in the ACC but we had a chance to catch up a little bit.”
It adds greater weight on the Jackets to pick up a win Sunday at home against Syracuse.
“Whether it’s home or away, we just need wins,” Pastner said. “We need to get wins.”