Georgia Tech coach Josh Pastner discusses the team's performance in the 82-81 overtime win over N.C. State to start the 2019-20 season. (Video courtesy of Georgia Tech Athletics)

Jackets credit age, experience in holding off N.C. State in season opener

Georgia Tech began the season with a rousing victory Tuesday night, withstanding N.C. State’s early surge to claim an 82-81 overtime victory at PNC Arena.

A season opener doubling as an ACC league game, the matchup was hard-fought and tense, with center James Banks securing the win for Tech with a pair of free throws with 2.1 seconds remaining in overtime that tied the game and gave the Jackets the lead.

Five things to know from the season opener:

1. Who stood out

Banks was a force, running the floor for dunks, blocking shots and cleaning up the glass for rebounds. He finished with 20 points, 14 rebounds, five blocks and three assists against one turnover. Guard Michael Devoe had a soft touch on his shot, leading the Jackets with 22 points on 7-for-14 shooting. Forward Khalid Moore did a little of everything, including securing a loose ball and then winning the offensive rebound that led to Banks’ game-winning free throws in overtime.

Forward Moses Wright tantalized, coming alive in the second half when he had eight points, three rebounds and two blocks in 10 minutes, but also turning the ball over twice and committing four fouls to foul out midway through the half.

“He was an animal,” Banks said. “His energy is what I think got us that win.”

2. Jackets are old

A pet saying that Pastner has driven into the ground since his hire is “get old and stay old,” a reference to his plan to win with juniors and seniors and then continue to replenish the roster. His plans for this team to reach the NCAA tournament (should the Jackets’ appeal to the NCAA to rescind its postseason ban succeed or last long enough that it can’t be applied to this season) is grounded in this team finally attaining that “get old” stage.

That the Jackets withstood N.C. State’s early knockout attempt — falling behind 8-0, 21-9 and 39-24 — and then were able to catch the Wolfpack in regulation before winning in overtime might speak to that maturity. Of the eight players Pastner played, he had five juniors or seniors, two sophomores (one of whom is a returning starter, Devoe) and a freshman. The 15-point deficit tied for the largest that the Jackets have overcome to win in Pastner’s tenure, and the largest in a road win.

“A younger team might (panic),” Pastner said. “We didn’t because we’ve been through it as a group for awhile now.”

Said Banks, “I’m an old head now, so I’ve seen it all, been through it all. When we got down by a bunch, I wasn’t fazed by that.”

3. Who played, who didn’t

Pastner used an eight-man rotation, including freshman guard Asanti Price, who played 19 minutes, including nearly all of overtime. Price’s 3-pointer from the corner in Tech’s first possession of overtime gave his team first lead of the game, 78-75. It was also his first career basket.

Guard Bubba Parham, a prolific 3-point shooter at VMI before transferring to Tech this past summer, did not score a basket and was 0-for-2 from 3-point range. But he had three rebounds, handled the ball well (no turnovers) and consistently found open teammates, finishing with two assists.

Forward Kristian Sjolund and guard Shembari Phillips, who both had spots in the rotation at different points of last season, did not play.

4. N.C. State not at full strength

As thrilling as it might have been to win an overtime game on the road in a frenzied environment, it’s worth noting that N.C. State was without two key players who would have made a difference. Point guard Markell Johnson (12.6 points, 4.2 assists last season) was out with an ankle injury and forward D.J. Funderburk (8.8 points, 4.2 rebounds) has been suspended indefinitely. (It could also be noted that Tech was without transfer guard Jordan Usher, who won’t be eligible until Dec. 18.)

Further, for whatever reason, Tech has matched up well with N.C. State, having now won five of the past six meetings. The Jackets are 24-43 against the rest of the ACC in that span.

As premature as it would have been to draw vast conclusions had the Jackets lost — a fate Tech easily could have suffered — the same can probably be said about them winning.

5. Extras

Tech defended most of the game in man-to-man, eschewing the 1-3-1 zone that has been its defensive identity in Pastner’s tenure. The Jackets played man in most of their two exhibition games, also.

Banks said that the team has practiced man-to-man defense “a lot,” but he didn’t make much of it, figuring that Tech stayed with that scheme instead of the zone simply because it was working.

Tech shot an even 50 percent from the field (30-for-60). Going back to last season, it’s the fourth consecutive game that the Jackets have shot 50 percent or better, which Tech has not done at least as far back as the 2007-08 season. The Jackets are 3-1 in those games.

Pastner credited football coach Geoff Collins for a term that he has begun using with his team – “championship motor,” as in the effort level necessary to win championships.

“Guys made a lot of championship-motor type of plays (Tuesday),” he said.

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