But, if they are indeed close, as Pastner said, then it might be time for the results to reflect it, and that might make reframing the remaining schedule a useful exercise for his team.
If the tournament is likely out of play, Tech can pursue another significant, albeit less meaningful, marker of success. If the Jackets finish their remaining 16 games (there also are postponed games against Syracuse and Alabama A&M that the team is trying to make up) at 10-6, they would secure a winning record in ACC play for a third consecutive season. That has been accomplished only once in team history, 1988-90. (Were Tech to fit in its postponed game at Syracuse, the Jackets also would need to win that game to have a winning league record.)
Ever optimistic and believing in his team, Pastner saw that as feasible.
“Are we capable of making that happen?” he asked. “Absolutely. But it’s got to be one possession at a time, through defense, through winning 50/50 balls, through winning toughness plays. In order for us to achieve that, our way to get that is going to be through that.”
Pastner took encouragement from the Jackets’ play in their 69-57 loss at No. 2 Duke on Tuesday in demonstrating the effort and focus that he said will be necessary to have a shot at a winning record in the league.
“I felt the best we did it was (Tuesday),” Pastner said. “I felt like we did it in some other areas throughout the season, but it hasn’t been as consistent. I thought (Tuesday) was the best we’ve done it in a 40-minute time period.”
A 13-2 run to close the first half lifted the Blue Devils to a 35-23 halftime lead and removed almost all possibility of an upset. Still, the Jackets cut Duke’s lead to six points on three different occasions in the second half, the last time with 3:18 to play. While Duke had rust as it came off its COVID-19 pause, the Blue Devils’ 37.3% field-goal percentage was its lowest of the season.
“They played hard the whole 40,” Duke forward Paolo Banchero said. “We couldn’t really pull away. They made it difficult for us.”
Pastner’s team has thwarted itself in its slide with minutes-long scoring droughts. For five games in a row before the Duke game, the Jackets endured a second-half segment of at least four minutes in which they failed to score. Tech ended that streak against Duke, but scored two only points in the final 5:31 of the first half.
To Pastner, who often describes basketball as a “make-or-miss game” in which good shots sometimes don’t go in, avoiding those droughts is beyond players’ control. But the principles he preaches, such as diving on the floor for loose balls and executing the defense properly, are not.
“If we can be really good at those, we will have a chance (to have a winning ACC record for a third consecutive season),” Pastner said. “And as it’s shown by the past, it’s not easy to do that here at Georgia Tech.”