As Michael Devoe heats up, Georgia Tech looks for additional scoring help

Georgia Tech’s Wednesday night loss to No. 23 Wisconsin highlighted at least a couple of things that have become clear in the Yellow Jackets’ young season. One, guard Michael Devoe is having a superior season as one of the top scorers in the country. Two, the Jackets can’t win with his scoring output alone.

Devoe tossed in 33 points in the Jackets’ 70-66 loss to the Badgers in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge at McCamish Pavilion. Devoe’s scoring acumen was again on display. He made 3-pointers, snaked his way to the basket for layups and took care of business at the free-throw line. Devoe’s second 30-point game of the season made him, through Wednesday’s games, the leading scorer in Division I at an even 25 points per game.

“He’s a handful,” Wisconsin coach Greg Gard said afterward. “You see how he gets shots. You can defend him perfectly, and he can still knock down a shot. He’s a really good player.”

Before Thursday’s games, Devoe also was leading Division I in 3-point field-goal percentage at 59% (23-for-39). What’s impressive is that Devoe isn’t making shots only from 3-point range on catch-and-shoot shots. He has frequently scored, as he did against the Badgers, by creating space for himself off the dribble.

“I’m really proud of Mike and his consistency and his development and how much he’s improved,” coach Josh Pastner said.

However, the Jackets were too reliant on Devoe in their bid for an upset against Wisconsin, which last week earned respect by winning the Maui Invitational that included a win over then-No. 12 Houston, a Final Four participant last season. The Badgers’ disciplined and challenging defense stifled Devoe’s teammates, who were a combined 11-for-33 from the field (while Devoe was 11-for-20).

Without a second scorer, Pastner played Devoe for all 40 minutes. Perhaps not coincidentally, he was 0-for-3 from the field and had his only free-throw miss in the final 4:01.

Tech’s second-leading scorers were center Rodney Howard and guard Deivon Smith, both with nine, but they were a combined 6-for-17 from the field. Forward Jordan Usher, Tech’s second-leading scorer this season (15.8 points per game before Wednesday) scored five on 2-for-7 shooting. He missed what would have been a go-ahead 3-pointer with about 24 seconds left and the Jackets down 66-64.

While Usher was making 28.6% of his 3-pointers this season before Wednesday and had the same rate last season, Pastner was comfortable with putting the game in Usher’s hands. Pastner said he told him after the game that he’ll have another opportunity in the same situation later in the season and will make the shot.

“And he got a great look,” Pastner said.

Regardless, Pastner acknowledged the need for his team to support Devoe in a scoring role. In Tech’s previous game, against Georgia Southern, Devoe came off the bench while still suffering from flu symptoms to score 26 in the Jackets’ 61-59 win, leading them back from a 12-point halftime deficit. Tech rode Devoe after halftime, as he scored 15 of the Jackets’ 34 second-half points.

Usher has filled the No. 2 scorer thus far, often adeptly. He has been in double figures in five of the Jackets’ seven games and is shooting 48.2% from the field. But the challenge is for another Jackets player to be able to emerge if Usher is off his game.

“There’s no doubt that hurt us a little bit (Wednesday),” Pastner said. “Because we need some different guys to step in scoring. Mike’s going to score at times, and he’s been pretty consistent with that. But we need different guys, and, again, you don’t have to score 20-something.”

One potential choice was sitting on the bench for the Jackets, guard Bubba Parham. The senior is continuing his recovery from a torn meniscus in his knee and was to start working on individual drills this week. The hope is that he can be ready when ACC play begins in full Dec. 29 at Syracuse. (The Jackets play their ACC opener Sunday against North Carolina at McCamish.)

Parham scored 6.7 points per game last season, but has the potential for a much bigger role. Parham scored 14.6 and 21.4 points per game in his two seasons at VMI before transferring, the second season leading the Southern Conference in scoring.

Guard Kyle Sturdivant has had two double-figures scoring games, as has freshman guard Deebo Coleman, and Howard has had three.

“We can’t count on him scoring 30-plus every game,” Pastner said of Devoe. “It’s not just Jordan Usher. It’s everybody. We’ve got to continue to find other guys to score, and it doesn’t have to be a bunch of scoring. It just has to be efficient scoring.”

Pastner did not express much concern about the matter Wednesday. He has repeatedly expressed his excitement about the team and its prospects to develop.

“We had a couple shots there we just missed around the rim, but I told our guys, we’ve got another great opportunity on Sunday against North Carolina,” he said.