On Saturday, Georgia Tech gets to answer a question that has never been asked — how will the Yellow Jackets respond after losing an ACC game by 53 points?
The Jackets face No. 9 Louisville at McCamish Pavilion three days after No. 8 Duke meted out a thrashing for the ages, a 110-57 defeat of Tech in Durham, N.C. The game set a Tech record for widest margin of defeat in an ACC game. There hadn’t been an ACC game that lopsided since February 1965.
Following the lead of coach Josh Pastner, Tech players have adopted the mantra that it was only one game.
“Especially with this league, you kind of have to get used to moving on,” center Ben Lammers said. “Each game is worth the same amount. It doesn’t matter what the score is, we’re still 1-1. You’ve just got to move on to the next one.”
The challenge for Tech will be nearly as great as it was Wednesday. Louisville is 12-3 overall with wins over No. 6 Kentucky, No. 20 Purdue and No. 25 (tie) Indiana, but is 0-2 in the ACC. Louisville coach Rick Pitino declared it a “must-win game.”
In that context, Pastner will try to pull his young team off the mat.
“I had to pick the guys up (Thursday),” Pastner said Friday. “I’m like, ‘Guys, hey, it’s over.’ I kept telling them it didn’t matter who Duke was going to play — they were winning.”
Pastner has demonstrated a knack for helping his teams recover from defeat. In league games during his seven seasons at Memphis, the Tigers were 26-9 (74.3 percent) following losses. His overall league winning percentage was 69.5 percent. Friday, he recalled a particularly dramatic recovery. On Jan. 4, 2014, Memphis lost 69-53 to Cincinnati. Days later, he fired his strength-and-conditioning coach (who happened to be his brother-in-law).
In its next game, Memphis went on the road to defeat the No. 12 team in the country — Louisville. Later that season, the Tigers lost to Houston and rallied two days later against the No. 7 team in the country, the same Cardinals.
“Not that there’s any correlation (with Saturday’s game against Louisville),” Pastner said. “My point is, we’ve done it against good teams. We’ve bounced back well, but I do know this league (is tough), and my teams at Memphis, personnel was different, too.”
Erasing the memory of defeat is something of an acquired talent.
“I’ve gotten better at it,” Lammers said. “Unfortunately, I’ve had some experience with losing, but you kind of have to learn to look at it like what you can take from it and then try to move on to try to apply it to the next game.”
For Tech, one major lesson from Duke, which made 16 of 31 3-point tries, was a firmer understanding of how to rotate on the perimeter in its 2-3 zone. The Blue Devils moved the ball quickly in and out of the zone to get the Jackets out of place and open up shooters.
“It’s a fairly typical 2-3, but the way our rotation works, it’s a little different than we’ve done in the past, so it’s kind of like getting guys used to knowing when the pass goes here, you have to drop down,” Lammers said. “It takes a little bit of getting used to.”
Going into Friday’s games, Louisville was ranked 272nd nationally in 3-point field-goal percentage at 32.4 percent.
Regardless of what happens Saturday — the metrics website kenpom.com gives Tech a 14 percent chance of winning — Tech likely will be in this situation again. The Jackets were picked to finish 14th in the 15-team ACC and will face a number of heavyweights in coming weeks. There are seven ACC teams in this week’s top 25. Resilience is required.
“That’s just the ACC,” guard Corey Heyward said. “You can’t really hold your head back and worry or dwell on the past game. You’ve just got to move forward. I’ve been here long enough — crazy things happen in the ACC.”
Tech already has shown the capacity for bouncing back from a crushing loss. The Jackets’ biggest non-conference win, on the road against VCU, followed their 81-58 defeat to Tennessee, which before Wednesday was their widest margin of defeat.
“We’ve got good guys, good-character guys,” Pastner said. “Usually, you have good-character guys, you’re able to bounce back. It doesn’t mean you’re going to win the game, it just means you’re going to play better.”
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