Pittsburgh deals home loss to Georgia Tech

Georgia Tech guard Deebo Coleman directs play against Pittsburgh January 14, 2023 at McCamish Pavilion. The Yellow Jackets were defeated 71-60. (Danny Karnik/Georgia Tech Athletics)

Credit: Danny Karnik

Credit: Danny Karnik

Georgia Tech guard Deebo Coleman directs play against Pittsburgh January 14, 2023 at McCamish Pavilion. The Yellow Jackets were defeated 71-60. (Danny Karnik/Georgia Tech Athletics)

In Georgia Tech’s seventh ACC game of the season, a competitive effort once again did not equate to a winning result. The Yellow Jackets pushed Pitt, one of the surprise teams of the ACC, but didn’t have the firepower to complete the job, losing 71-60 on Saturday afternoon at McCamish Pavilion.

Tech (8-9, 1-6 ACC) continued its slide, losing its fifth game out of its past six. Pitt (12-6, 5-2), picked to finish 14th in the ACC this season (one place ahead of the Jackets), surpassed its win total from last season by beating Tech and is one league win shy of matching its 2021-22 season total.

After the game, coach Josh Pastner offered a statistical critique of his team’s offensive inadequacies.

“I’ve said it – to win in this league, you’ve got to get to 70,” he said. “You’ve got to get to 70 points offensively. You’ve got to get to 70, and we’re not getting to 70. That’s just the bottom line.”

In seven ACC games, the Jackets have failed to reach the 70-point mark in regulation six times, twice not making it to 60, and have lost each game. Their lone league win, over No. 16 Miami, was precipitated by a 76-point outburst.

On Saturday, the Jackets actually were highly productive from 3-point range, making 12 on 29 attempts (41.4%). In Pastner’s seven-year tenure, the Jackets have made more 3-pointers against an ACC opponent only once, according to sports-reference.com.

But Tech labored inside the arc, having trouble creating open shots and often missing the ones it did manage. The Jackets shot 12-for-37 on two-point field-goal tries, a remarkably inefficient 32.4%. It’s the lowest that Tech has shot inside the arc, dating to the 2019-20 season, according to KenPom’s record keeping.

“I felt like we got our shots; we just couldn’t really stick it or lay it in,” said center Rodney Howard, who scored six points on 3-for-6 shooting. “We just really couldn’t get anything in the basket.”

As often has been the case this season, Tech’s Princeton offense, designed to create open shots at the basket via passing and cutting, struggled to meet that objective. The Jackets were 3-for-14 on layups, where Pitt was 13-for-24. While the Jackets’ 15 assists on their 24 field goals indicates effective ball movement, it’s noteworthy that 12 of the 15 assists supported 3-point baskets. Panthers coach Jeff Capel praised the work of center Federiko Federiko for his help defense and rim protection.

“That’s a real problem of ours right now, is scoring in the paint,” Pastner said. “And to really win at a high level, you’ve got to score in the paint.”

While accepting responsibility for the performance and stating his obligation to find ways to help his team score more, Pastner also offered about as pointed an assessment of his players as he will make.

“There’s just some times there, where, individually, you’ve just got to win that individual matchup,” he said. “Or you’ve got to make that open shot. That’s a big deal.”

The Jackets did a number of things that put them in a competitive position. For the second consecutive game, guard Kyle Sturdivant gave the Jackets a lift off the bench, this time spreading out a game-high five assists against one turnover. Guard Deivon Smith, whose availability for the game was uncertain as he fought an illness this week, recorded his second consecutive double-double, with 15 points and 11 rebounds, both team highs.

“I worked hard all offseason,” Smith said. “I’m still working hard. I knew I’m due for games like this because I’m capable of doing them. Literally just staying the course and letting it come to me.”

As is normally the case, Tech defended the 3-point arc well, limiting the Panthers to 6-for-20 shooting from 3-point range. The Jackets’ 14 offensive rebounds led to 19 second-chance points, their most in ACC play this season, and Tech limited Pitt to six second-chance points. It was Tech’s third consecutive game with six second-chance points allowed, an indication that a major problem area earlier in the season (defensive rebounding) has been addressed.

But the Jackets’ inability to score at the basket and Pitt’s simultaneous success at the rim, as well as the Panthers’ striking advantage in getting to the free-throw line (20 free throws to Tech’s three) led to the final result. The Jackets were 0-for-3 from the line, their first time not making a free throw in a game since a January 2014 loss at Duke (0-for-6).

After going into halftime down 38-34, Tech gave up a 6-0 run early in the second half to fall behind 46-36 with 16:31 remaining. While hardly an insurmountable deficit in most cases, with the Jackets’ offense so challenged to come up with easy scores, it felt far greater. Tech once got as close as four points after that point, but the result did not seem in doubt.

Tech forward Ja’von Franklin, the team’s leading rebounder and top shot blocker, was limited by illness and played only six minutes.

The Jackets have started ACC play with a 1-6 record for the second season in a row. Next up is a Tuesday night home game against N.C. State, now 14-4 with an overtime win Saturday over Miami.

The Jackets’ climb to 70 points begins anew.

“I’ve got to come up with something to help us get to 70, whatever it is,” Pastner said.