As competitions go, Georgia Tech’s 73-40 win over Florida A&M Sunday at McCamish Pavilion wasn’t much. Rattlers coach Robert McCullum admitted as much after the game, saying that once his team missed some shots early from close range under Tech’s defensive pressure, “we just lost confidence and it went the other way. From that point on, it wasn’t in doubt.”
While not the most meaningful game on the schedule, the contest still enabled the Yellow Jackets to continue to knit their roster together and develop new players as the ACC season approaches (Jan. 5 against Wake Forest).
“Just knowing what’s happening, knowing what guys are supposed to do and then guys actually doing that – I feel like that’s what you guys are seeing when you see that synergy on the court,” forward James Banks said.
Banks was one of the highlights for coach Josh Pastner, who played all 12 scholarship players in the win. Starting his second consecutive game after coming off the bench for the first five games of his Tech career, Banks altered shots on the defensive end (four blocks and perhaps as many shots altered) and showed an increasing aptitude for playing out of both the low and high posts. Banks doled out a career-high five assists in 27 minutes of play against one turnover, repeatedly finding cutters to the basket for layups.
“He made some great reads from the low block and from the high post,” Pastner said.
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For Banks, who transferred from Texas in May and received an immediate-eligibility waiver prior to the second game of the season, that was just two fewer assists than he accumulated in 492 minutes in two seasons with the Longhorns.
“If I see you cutting, I’ll make sure I hit you,” Banks said. “So I just really locked in on being a great teammate, passing up a good look for a great look, and I feel like that gets everybody going.”
Twice his recipient was freshman forward Khalid Moore, who hit career highs in points (14) and minutes (18) off the bench. Moore was 6-for-6 from the field, including two 3-pointers (one from the corner when Banks passed to him out of a triple team in the post).
“I think he’s got a chance to be a really good player,” Pastner said. “You can see him continue to get better.”
Watching Moore play, it’s clear he has a handle on how to move within the offense and contribute, not always a given for a freshman this early in the season. He likely benefited from a heavy practice schedule this week – Pastner practiced the team six times between Wednesday and Saturday, not counting what he called a “full-fledged shootaround” on Sunday before the game – as the final-exam period began Thursday.
“The practice, it really gave us a lot of time to get better as a team, and I feel like every day we’re growing more and more,” Moore said. “We’re becoming more comfortable playing with each other, learning from our past mistakes, our past games.”
Moore’s second basket off a Banks assist, midway through the second half, demonstrated the cohesion. Established in the low post, Banks demanded the ball – “Ball! Ball!” – loudly enough that he could be heard from the upper deck of McCamish. (This was also because hardly anyone was in the building.)
Guard Shembari Phillips obliged with an entry pass from the wing, at which point Moore, running up the court as the Rattlers tried to set their defense, sliced to the basket. In one sweeping motion, Banks caught the ball and hit Moore with a bounce pass as he charged down the center of the lane, catching the ball and laying it in for an easy basket.
Both Banks and Moore, who had never played together before last month, recognized the same opportunity on the fly.
“I knew that he’s a big down there, and they were late getting back on defense, so I knew that they would focus more on him and that would leave me the open space to cut, so I just cut violently and he just found the open man,” Moore said.
Defensively, Tech (5-3) continued to play well, using their length and anticipating well to force 25 turnovers out of the Rattlers (3-8), who also shot 34.8 percent from the field, their season low.
There will be far tougher opponents before long. Tech is 5-0 against teams that finished last season with an RPI of 203 or worse (all games at home) and 0-3 against teams with a season-ending RPI of 104 or better (all away from McCamish). The season may yet be a boatload of conference defeats. But, for one game at least, additional improvement.