Georgia Tech facing highest free-throw differential in ACC

Georgia Tech coach Josh Pastner gave his familiar talking points about the officiating following the Yellow Jackets’ 79-70 loss to Miami on Wednesday night in Coral Gables, Fla.

Pastner said he had a great level of respect for the officials – on this night, Bill Covington, Mike Roberts and Tony Henderson – and recognized that they have a difficult job. Pastner was making those comments because, again, the whistles mostly were called in Miami’s favor.

As Tech dropped to 10-13 overall and 3-9 in the ACC, the Jackets were called for 27 fouls to 15 for Miami, and the Hurricanes took 26 free throws to 14 for the Jackets, outscoring them 20-11 from the line.

“I’d rather take the high road on my personal feelings about the officiating,” Pastner said, which, in a way, said enough.

Through Wednesday’s games in the ACC, Tech had the widest deficit in free throws compared with its opponent and also the largest surplus of personal fouls. But it’s not simply that the Jackets rank last in both categories, but the margin.

Tech has taken 65 fewer free throws than its ACC opponents (223-158). Of the other 14 teams in the league, 11 teams are between plus- or minus-50. The other three outside that range are enjoying a free-throw surplus – Duke and Miami at plus-58 and Syracuse at plus-60.

The Jackets also have been called for 58 more fouls than their conference opponents, 226-168. Of the rest of the league, 13 teams are between plus- and minus-30. (Notre Dame has been called for 40 fewer fouls than its ACC opponents.)

Guard Michael Devoe, whose on-court body language and postgame comments often have reflected his frustration with the officiating this season, smiled wryly when the topic was brought up after the Miami game.

“We kind of knew that coming into Miami,” Devoe said. “They’re going to favor the home team.”

He went further later on.

“I would say that people don’t like the fact that we won the ACC championship last year,” Devoe said.

There are a few possible explanations. One is that because Tech often has played with a smaller lineup, that has meant that the Jackets have had a tougher time defending in the paint, leading to fouls. Forward Khalid Moore, a 6-foot-7 player who often has been tasked with defending opposing centers five inches taller than he is, is averaging one foul every 9.6 minutes. Last year, when forward Moses Wright normally was defending the opponents’ big men, Moore was called for a foul once every 14.5 minutes.

Another explanation is related. Tech’s post players – Rodney Howard, Jordan Meka and Saba Gigiberia – who might otherwise be expected to draw contact and fouls near the basket, aren’t especially agressive players with the ball in their hands.

The three have combined for an average of 3.6 shots per game in ACC play and have taken a total of 10 free throws in the Jackets’ 12 ACC games. Last season, by comparison, Wright took an average of 13.3 shots per ACC game, was aggressive going to the basket and averaged 3.7 free throws per game.

That said, Pastner likely wouldn’t be choosing to keep his thoughts on the officiating private if he thought his team was consistently receiving even officiating. His objections drew him a rare technical during the first loss to Miami, when the Hurricanes had a 25-10 advantage from the free-throw line.

Earlier this season, he made a rare critique about the officiating, bringing attention to the rule that if a defender places two hands on an offensive player with the ball, it’s supposed to be an automatic foul.

Devoe, most likely the player Pastner was campaigning for, is averaging a free throw for every 2.5 shots he takes inside the 3-point arc. Last year, the rate was 1.7, an indication he’s drawing fewer calls.

“It’s almost getting regular to just dive in and get smacked on something and cut up and not get a foul, and the ref will even say ‘We’ll make it up’ or ‘We might have missed that one,’” forward Jordan Usher said. “But that’s just playing at Tech. That’s how it kind of is.”

Tech has other issues. Namely, the Jackets turned the ball over 18 times, a total normally incompatible with victory. But, the Jackets also have to learn to play through calls and non-calls.

“I’ve told our guys, ‘Hey, look, we can’t worry about a call, a missed call,’” Pastner said. “Basketball, there’s going to be times when you get fouled and they didn’t call it, or there’s going to be times where maybe you didn’t get fouled and they do call it. That’s just basketball, but we can’t dwell on that.”