After 2-0 start, Georgia Tech has much to clean up

Georgia Tech is 2-0, and that is something that coach Josh Pastner hasn’t been able to claim much in his first six seasons.

The Yellow Jackets have done it twice in that span, in part because the likes of UCLA and Tennessee have been early matchups in past seasons. That’s not the only reason. The Jackets lost last year’s season opener to Miami (Ohio) and to Georgia State and Mercer in their first two games two years ago. But, having defeated Division II Clayton State and intown-rival Georgia State to open this season, Tech has ascended a modest peak it hadn’t summited since 2019 and now will contend with Northern Illinois at home Thursday night.

The Huskies are 1-2, including a home loss to Division II Illinois-Springfield. Aside from being able to attain the first 3-0 record of Pastner’s tenure, the Jackets have some cleaning up to do in advance of stiffer competition ahead. After Northern Illinois, Tech will play power-conference opponents in four of its next six games, including its ACC opener at No. 1 North Carolina on Dec. 10.

“We’re still early in the process,” Pastner said in an interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “I still think we need more time before we can say, ‘These are our strengths and weaknesses.’ I think we’ve got to play more games to determine that.”

Against Georgia State, the Jackets defended well, holding the Panthers to 36.8% shooting from the field and forcing 15 turnovers. Tech was lacking in its defensive rebounding, however, as Georgia State grabbed 14 offensive rebounds to Tech’s 26 defensive rebounds. Not only does a defensive rebounding percentage of 65% invite defeat – 75% is a solid rate – but limiting opponents’ offensive rebounding is an area that Pastner had committed to improving in the offseason and preseason.

Rebounding is a weak spot within playing a zone defense, as Tech often does, because it’s more of a challenge for players to get a body on offensive opponents to box out and keep off the glass. But Pastner said that the team’s defensive rebounding also could have been better when the Jackets were playing man-to-man.

“We didn’t do a good enough job of rotational rebounding on the back side when we were in man-to-man,” Pastner said. “That’s something that we have to keep getting better at, and we’ve spent a lot of time on that.”

Another number that stood out in the box score was Tech’s eight 3-point shots. The Jackets made three, led by guard Miles Kelly going 2-for-3 from behind the arc. The last time Tech attempted fewer 3-pointers was in the 2018-19 season.

With the number of perimeter shooters that the Jackets have, such as Kelly and guards Deebo Coleman and Lance Terry, Tech needs to create more opportunities for 3-point tries. The impact of taking so few 3-pointers was magnified by the fact that Tech was 16-for-40 (40%) inside the arc. The Jackets shot below 40% on 2-point shots only twice last season.

Tech did compensate by taking 27 free throws to the Panthers’ 21, though the Jackets could have been better from the line, too, making 18 (66.7%).

“Georgia State’s defense was good,” Pastner said. “I’ve got to continue to find different ways to make sure good shooters like Lance will have more opportunities. That’s an area we’ve got to continue to tinker with.”

In the win over Georgia State, Coleman led the team with 16 points, making nine of 13 free throws. Kelly scored 15, including the game-winner on a drive to the basket with 4.1 seconds left. Forward Jalon Moore scored seven off the bench, with a team-high seven rebounds. While Terry scored four points, he had five defensive rebounds.

“We’ve got to keep getting better,” Pastner said. “We’ve got to keep cleaning things up.”