5 things to know about Georgia Tech-Notre Dame game

Duke forward Paolo Banchero (5) guards Georgia Tech center Saba Gigiberia (2) during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game in Durham, N.C., Tuesday, Jan. 4, 2022. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)
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Duke forward Paolo Banchero (5) guards Georgia Tech center Saba Gigiberia (2) during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game in Durham, N.C., Tuesday, Jan. 4, 2022. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)

Credit: Gerry Broome

Credit: Gerry Broome

Georgia Tech coach Josh Pastner reiterated Friday that his team was close to becoming the team he has envisioned, but also acknowledged that close only counts for so much.

“What’s the thing – close but no cigar, or something,” Pastner said. “I think that’s a saying.”

It indeed is, and the Yellow Jackets would do well to turn the corner Saturday with their home game against Notre Dame.

“We’ve just got to get over the hump,” Pastner said.

ExploreComplete Georgia Tech coverage on AJC.com

Five things to know about Saturday’s game:

1. Pastner speaks on officiating

When Pastner speaks on officiating, he invariably says two things. He praises referees for the work they do and recognizes that it’s a difficult job.

It made his comments, in the wake of Tech’s loss at No. 2 Duke on Tuesday in which the Jackets were called for 27 fouls to 14 for Duke, in a videoconference with media stand out.

“I do think that, when a guy penetrates or drives – and this is, again, just a generalization – whether you’re 30 feet, 35 feet or six feet (from the basket), the rule for college basketball is that if there’s two hands (on the player with the ball) at any point, it is an automatic foul,” Pastner said.

For many coaches, it might have sounded like a gentle critique, and Pastner added that he wasn’t making a comment on officiating in the Duke game or any other game. But given Pastner’s typically hands-off approach to commenting on officiating, it practically was an excoriation. Pastner did have an accurate understanding of the NCAA rule book, which lists “putting two hands on an opponent” with the ball as one of the acts that constitutes a foul.

Pastner may have particularly been making a case for guard Michael Devoe, who has at times been aggravated by not getting foul calls on drives to the basket. After the Jackets’ loss to Louisville on Sunday, Devoe commented that “I haven’t gotten a good whistle this year yet.”

Said Pastner of Devoe, “Mike’s just got to do his job, and if he doesn’t get a call, he’s got to continue to be able to make that play without worrying about getting a call or not.”

Pastner has sometimes been asked about why he isn’t more demonstrative in working officials during games to get more calls in Tech’s favor. Pastner said it was out of what he called the “highest level of respect” for officials and also his desire to represent Tech well.

“I’m not a guy that works the officials,” Pastner said. “I’m not that guy. I don’t talk to them that much. I try to coach the team and focus on us.”

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2. Howard remains out

Pastner said that he expected center Rodney Howard, who has missed the past two games with an ankle injury, to be out for “another week to two weeks at the minimum.” Howard had started the first 11 games for the Jackets, averaging 26.8 minutes, 6.2 points and 5.5 rebounds per game.

While Jordan Meka, who has started the past two games in his place, has been a solid defensive replacement, neither he nor backup post player Saba Gigiberia have shown much productivity yet on offense. They combined for eight points on 3-for-12 shooting against Duke, although they also combined for six offensive rebounds.

“They had great shots,” Pastner said. “They were right at the rim. They’ve just got to make them.”

3. Parham doubtful to play

After waiting 11 games to make his season debut, Tech guard Bubba Parham may have to sit on the sideline a little more. Parham played the past two games in his return from a torn meniscus in his right knee suffered in the preseason, but he was doubtful for the Jackets’ game against Notre Dame because of soreness in both knees, Pastner said.

Pastner said that Parham had soreness before the Duke game, but wanted to play, and he played 27 minutes after logging 15 against Louisville. Parham didn’t practice Thursday and was to be sidelined again for Friday’s practice. Parham looked better in his playing time against Duke, when he had three assists with no turnovers but also was 0-for-5 from the field, all 3-point attempts. Speaking with media before Pastner did Friday, Parham sounded more hopeful than his coach of his potential to play.

“The Duke game was a big jump for me, I feel like,” Parham said. “I feel like it was a good test of my speed and my rhythm of the game. I wasn’t quite there, but I’m almost there. So this next game should be a big one for me.”

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4. Highly efficient Notre Dame

In previewing Notre Dame, Pastner offered his standard paean to Fighting Irish coach Mike Brey, calling him one of the best coaches in the country and saying that if Brey weren’t already an inductee into the school’s Hall of Fame, “that’s a travesty.” (Notre Dame does not have a Hall of Fame, but the basketball team has a ring of honor that Brey is expected to join upon the conclusion of his Fighting Irish career, now in its 22nd season.)

The Irish have won five of their past six to improve to 8-5 (2-1 ACC), including defeats of No. 16 Kentucky and North Carolina, as opposed to Tech (6-7, 0-3), which has lost six of its past seven. In each of Notre Dame’s past four games, the Irish have eclipsed 40% from 3-point range.

“They’re like the Golden State Warriors, the way they play,” Pastner said.

5. Avoiding turnovers

Tech has had its only three single-digit turnover games of the season in its past four games, against USC (seven), Louisville (nine) and Duke (nine). The Jackets lost all three and won the lone game in that stretch, against Georgia State, when they had a season-high 23 turnovers. The Jackets average 13.5 turnovers per game. Pastner called it “an unbelievable blessing” to have had back-to-back games with nine turnovers.

Avoiding turnovers figures to be essential against Notre Dame, taking into account the Irish’s scoring efficiency and that they average 10.8 turnovers per game, 31st in Division I after Thursday’s games.

Turnovers drive Pastner batty, “because you’re just giving away possessions,” he said. “And especially when you’re in a situation where you’re struggling to score at times, you just don’t have the luxury to give away those possessions, so we did better.”

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