Pastner called it the team’s “glaring issue.”
The other clear weak spot was defending the rim in half-court defense. Ball movement and player movement and the inability of Howard and backup Saba Gigiberia to effectively challenge Wake Forest close to the basket led to a flurry of dunks and uncontested layups.
Pastner lamented that teams were “scoring in the paint on us just with such ease, whether we’re big or small. And the lack of shot blocking right now is a big deal.”
Tech (7-10 overall, 1-6 ACC) was led by guard Michael Devoe, who scored a team-high 22 points, but was 2-for-8 from 3-point range. He is now 11-for-41 (26.8%) on 3-point tries in ACC play, compared to 48.2% (27-for-56) in non-conference play. After a couple of misses in the second half, Devoe clapped his hands in frustration.
“It's a frustrating time right now, but one thing about it is, you've got to stand tall as a man and as a team and as brothers," Devoe said.
The senior acknowledged that he needed to shoot better. “I’ve got to be more of a leader, so a lot of it falls on me.”
Another cold streak did in the Jackets against the Demon Deacons. With just under 14 minutes remaining in the second half, Tech guard Kyle Sturdivant hit a pull-up jumper to give the Jackets a 51-49 lead. Tech had scored on five consecutive possessions, including 3-pointers from Devoe and forward Jordan Usher.
But the Jackets, for whom prolonged scoring droughts have accompanied their skid, went dry. Wake Forest went on a 20-5 run, taking a 69-56 lead with 5:51 to play. Tech made two of 11 shots in that span and turned the ball over four times.
Wake Forest 80, Georgia Tech 64
Pastner, looking for a solution, subbed out four players at one stoppage after having subbed all five in and out on three occasions in the first half. Even with Howard available, Pastner tried the small lineup that the Jackets had used in the two previous games against Boston College and North Carolina.
“I was just trying to find a group,” Pastner said. “I felt we were a little lethargic on some things. I was just trying to find a rhythm.”
Nothing was slowing down the Demon Deacons, who were scoring with ease in transition and in their half-court offense. Of Wake Forest’s 33 baskets, 23 were assisted.
“I just feel like we have to lock in more defensively,” Devoe said.
Wake Forest (15-4, 5-3) continued its surge in the second season of coach Steve Forbes, who was actually not at the arena because of an illness. Head-coaching duties were handled by assistant coach Brooks Savage. After a 3-15 league record last year and no winning ACC record since the 2009-10 season, the Demon Deacons continued their climb.
“Wake Forest is really good,” Pastner said. “They’re an NCAA Tournament team.”
Pastner was far from abandoning hope for the season. He was much later to the post-game media availability than usual, as he had been meeting with his staff to figure out solutions, a meeting that would last much longer after the news conference. Tech’s next game is Sunday at home against Clayton State, a game added to replace the Alabama A&M game postponed and ultimately canceled due to the Jackets’ COVID-19 pause.
“I’ve got to figure it out,” Pastner said.