Louisville, fatigue subdue Georgia Tech

Hoping to build on its biggest win of the season, Georgia Tech was not up to the challenge Monday afternoon. Playing on tired legs against a rested opponent, the Yellow Jackets were handed their most decisive loss of the season in a 74-58 defeat at Louisville.

A team that relies on their quickness and effort, the Jackets did not play with their usual fervor and sharpness against Louisville. Playing less than 48 hours after its upset of then-No. 16 Florida State, Tech (8-6 overall, 4-4 ACC) faltered at Louisville’s KFC Yum Center. The Cardinals (11-4, 6-3) have now won eight of their nine games against Tech since they joined the ACC prior to the 2014-15 season.

Tech was playing with short rest (Louisville hadn’t played since Wednesday) as the game was a make-up for a game originally scheduled for Jan. 9 that was postponed due to the Jackets’ COVID-19 issues. Tech has three more postponed games to make up.

Coach Josh Pastner said that fatigue could have played a part in the outcome, but added that “you’re going to have a competitive imbalance somewhat on the schedule because you’re going to try to remake games, and that’s just part of the deal,” he said.

Tech attempted 68 field goals – the team’s season high for shots in a non-overtime game – but the Jackets’ 58 points were the lowest point total of the season. Often settling for 3-pointers, Tech shot 32.4% from the field (also a season low) and 29.6% from 3-point range. On top of that, the defensive pressure that created 9.5 steals (first in the ACC) and 16.1 turnovers (second) was similarly absent.

“We just didn’t get it done in a lot of areas (Monday),” Pastner said. “I thought we had some good looks, we just didn’t make them.”

The Jackets’ relative inactivity was most evident on the defensive glass, where Louisville claimed 20 of 47 available rebounds to keep possessions alive. It was particularly pronounced in the second half – Louisville pounced on 14 of the 26 available rebounds.

Louisville’s shooting numbers weren’t actually very good – 38.9% from the field, which was below the averages for the Cardinals and for Tech opponents – but it was the Cardinals’ work on the boards that pulled them through. Louisville scored 20 second-chance points to Tech’s nine, which Pastner described as the difference in the game.

“I thought our will on the offensive glass was really, really good,” Louisville coach Chris Mack said.

Tech’s fatigue revealed itself after halftime. Forward Moses Wright, who played 78 of a possible 80 minutes in the two previous games and then another 40 on Monday, put together another standout game – 15 points, 16 rebounds and a career-high seven blocks, giving him 18 rejections in the past five games. However, the production was tilted to the first half – seven points, 11 rebounds and five blocks. Wright, in fact, was a game-time decision, according to Pastner, after he didn’t practice Sunday because he was not feeling well.

Up 14-7 early on Wright’s contributions, Tech gave up an 8-0 run and then, in the final minute of the half, let a two-point deficit grow to six (33-27) by halftime. From there, the lead expanded to 47-29 in the first 5:08 of the second half, with the Cardinals scoring eight of their first 14 points via offensive rebounds. The lead was never smaller than 13 for the rest of the game, peaking at 20.

“The second and third opportunities really hurt us,” Pastner said.

Said Wright, “We just weren’t finishing out plays.”

A two-play sequence in the second half illustrated the state of the team’s energy level. With a little under 12 minutes left, Wright was not quick enough to a long rebound of a missed 3-pointer by Jordan Usher. At the other end, he couldn’t fight his way through a screen, allowing Louisville guard David Johnson to take – and make – a 3-pointer, one of six he made on 11 attempts. He scored a game-high 24 points.

“Moses usually gets that ball,” Pastner said of the rebound of the Usher miss.

After scoring 20-plus points in six of the previous seven games, guard Jose Alvarado could supply only seven points on 3-for-11 shooting, tying his season scoring low. Alvarado had played the full 40 in Tech’s previous two games. It didn’t help that he was hounded by the 6-foot-5 Johnson, whom Mack called one of the best defenders in the ACC.

“Alvarado’s the engine of their team, and he stalled it (Monday),” Mack said of Johnson.

Said Pastner of Alvarado,”It was probably his worst game in a long time, and when that happens, we struggle.”

Given the circumstances and opponent – which was both rested and in urgent need of a win, having lost three of its previous four – a win on Monday was a big ask. Still, for a team trying to climb into the NCAA tournament conversation, it would have been highly valuable. Earlier Monday, the Jackets received their first points in AP top-25 poll voting since the preseason poll of the 2010-11 season. A win over Louisville and another over Notre Dame, Tech’s opponent on Saturday at McCamish Pavilion, might have even nudged the Jackets into the top 25, ground they haven’t trod since the 2009-10 season, the year of their last NCAA tournament trip.

But, it wasn’t to be Monday.

“We definitely have a long break, so we’re definitely going to break down the game film and everything and put this one behind us,” Wright said. “This was a very winnable game. We all know that. So we’ve just got to focus on what’s ahead, which is Notre Dame Saturday.”