Rodney Howard powers Tech to season-opening victory

Georgia Tech's Rodney Howard dunks against Clayton State on Monday night at McCamish Pavilion. Howard paced the Jackets with 15 points and 13 rebounds,

Credit: Georgia Tech

Credit: Georgia Tech

Georgia Tech's Rodney Howard dunks against Clayton State on Monday night at McCamish Pavilion. Howard paced the Jackets with 15 points and 13 rebounds,

It took Tech a while to get going, but the Yellow Jackets started their men’s basketball season with a 93-63 victory over Clayton State on Monday night at McCamish Pavilion.

Rodney Howard paced the Jackets with 15 points and 13 rebounds, almost all from inside the free-throw lane. After missing his first four shots, all layups, Howard finished hitting seven of his next nine with three assists and three turnovers in 19 minutes. Gunning from the outside, Lance Terry added 16 points, 12 from 3-pointers, to give Tech its first season-opening win in three seasons. Nine Jackets scored at least four points against the Lakers, who fielded eight players. Six Tech players scored at least 10.

A reflection of Tech’s poor shooting inside, the game was tied to start the second half. The Jackets then pulled away with an 8-0 run early in the second half to put away their Division II opponent.

“The ball got stuck a lot in the first half,” Tech coach Josh Pastner said. “Don’t know if it was because it was our first time under the lights or the guys were thinking too much or whatever it may be. It was much better in the second half. We will get that corrected.”

Tech finished shooting 47.9%, including 21-of-34 in the second half. The Jackets finished with 31 defensive rebounds, which was a point of emphasis in the offseason. They added 21 offensive rebounds. Tech’s defense, which will be its strength, held the Lakers to 37.1% shooting.

“Tonight, what kept us alive is 21 offensive rebounds,” Pastner said.

Georgia Tech started slowly, missing its first nine shots before Howard scored on a putback 2 minutes, 35 seconds into the game. He attributed the misses to early-game jitters.

Tech built its lead to nine with 13:07 remaining in the first half before the Lakers gradually whittled it away, tying the game at 32 on a layup by Brian Coffey with 1:32 remaining. The Lakers forced a turnover and missed a 3-pointer that would have given them the lead. No matter, they took a 34-32 lead when a layup by Coffey was blocked for goaltending with 53 seconds left in the half.

The lead built by the Lakers came as Tech went through a scoring drought of almost three minutes. It was snapped with a layup by Ja’von Franklin that tied the game at 34 at the halftime buzzer.

Pastner said Tech just didn’t play “the right way” in the first half. He said his players didn’t move the ball quickly enough. The Lakers contributed to that by focusing on one particular aspect of Tech’s offense.

“The first half, our guys were very proud that we didn’t give up one back-door (shot) in the first half,” said Clayton State coach Vince Alexander, who guessed his team gave up 10 of those in the teams’ meeting last season.

The half shouldn’t have been that close. Tech scored 22 points in the paint but missed nine of its 16 layup attempts. Tech shot 36% in the first half. The Lakers made seven of their 14 layup attempts, including 10 points from fast breaks. They shot 40%. Alexander said he was proud of his team’s effort on defense.

Howard addressed the team at halftime.

“Our performance in the first half is the reason why they had us picked last place (in the ACC), and I felt like they took that pretty personal, and I know guys came out, started playing unselfish and finding players, not just playing harder,” he said.

Tech started the second half with consecutive turnovers before the offense began to find a groove as the passing pace improved. Howard started with an offensive rebound and layup. Deivon Smith glided in for another layup, which was followed by Howard hitting 1 of 2 free throws. Terry hit a 3-pointer from the wing to increase Tech’s lead to 42-36.

Terry hit two free throws and Howard added yet another putback to give Tech a 48-40 lead with 16 minutes remaining as the Lakers began to lose their composure, according to Alexander. The rebound and layup were Howard’s 11th and 11th point in just 13 minutes. It was also the Jackets’ fifth made field goal in their past seven attempts.

Tech’s defense increased its intensity with its zone. Terry hit consecutive 3-pointers to give Tech its largest lead, 56-46, to that point with 13:33 remaining.

“I just thought that our defense created pretty much all those shots,” Terry said.

Howard added another layup to give the Jackets a 58-46 lead with 12:24 remaining. It was the Jackets’ fourth made field goal in their past five attempts as their field-goal percentage steadily increased to 43.

Tech stretched its lead to 67-48 on a dunk by Jalon Moore with 10:15 remaining.

“Glad we won that first game,” Pastner said. “Much better in the second half.”