Scoring lapse does in Georgia Tech again, this time against Louisville

In its return from a COVID-19 pause, Georgia Tech was ailed by a particular challenge that had also hampered the Yellow Jackets prior to the break.

A nearly five-minute scoreless stretch midway through the second half by Tech enabled Louisville to take the lead, an advantage it retained in a 67-64 defeat for the Jackets Sunday evening at McCamish Pavilion.

“For the majority of the games that we’ve played, we’ve had a drought in that second half, and that happened to us again,” coach Josh Pastner said.

During that extended lull, which started at the 11:07 mark1gia State, Tech (6-6 overall, 0-2 ACC) again was a victim of a second-half offensive lapse of its own doing. When guard Kyle Sturdivant scored on a layup at the 11:07 mark, the Jackets took a 49-45 lead after outscoring Louisville 21-14 to start the second half.

But Tech wouldn’t put another ball through the hoop for another 4:49 of game action, by which point the Cardinals had taken a 55-49 lead with a 10-0 run.

It was similar to in-game slumps in defeats to North Carolina, LSU and USC and in the Jackets’ overtime win over Georgia State. Pastner sensed it coming, calling a timeout during a possession and making multiple substitutions to try to find an answer. The Jackets had multiple open shots, but were 0-for-7 with one turnover, with six of the misses from 3-point range.

“We make a couple of those, things are different,” Pastner said.

Said forward Jordan Usher, “We’ve got to be able to make plays, regardless of the lineup.”

Tech stayed in the game until the final minute, coming back from a 65-59 deficit with two minutes remaining to cut the lead to 65-64 on a transition basket by Khalid Moore with 1:25 left on a possession initiated by a Moore steal.

But Tech again couldn’t score again. Down 65-64, Usher drove the lane and turned the ball over with 28 seconds to play when he tried to thread a pass to Moore. After one made free throw increased Louisville’s lead to 66-64, guard Michael Devoe, the ACC’s leading scorer missed a stepback 3-pointer over a challenge by Jarrod West. And, in the final seconds, after another Cardinals free throw raised the advantage to 67-64 with 7.4 seconds left, guard Kyle Sturdivant missed a 3-point try as time expired.

“That’s super frustrating,” said Usher, who finished with 17 points on 6-for-11 shooting, including 3-for-6 from 3-point range. “That’s like studying all night for the test and you can’t pass it. All we have to ask for is getting a chance and we got a chance. I’ll take Mike’s stepback 10 out of 10 times. I feel like I probably should have shot the one when I drove and tried to pass it and got a turnover. I probably should have shot that hook shot. But we gave ourselves a chance. There’s going to be plenty more games that we have to make a buzzer beater and we’re going to stick ‘em.”

Tech finished the game shooting 41.1% from the field (23-for-56), including 9-for-24 (37.5%) from 3-point range. Louisville (9-4, 3-0) has won 11 of its past 12 against the Jackets. The Cardinals were 19-for-31 on two-point field-goals (61.3%), a season high for Tech defensively.

The Jackets were compromised with starting center Rodney Howard out with an ankle injury and backup forward Saba Gigiberia having just returned from a health and safety protocol. Center Jordan Meka made his first career start after missing nearly all of last season with a back injury a and then playing only three games this season as he waited for his chance behind Howard and Gigiberia.

Louisville’s 6-foot-11 forward Malik Williams prospered against Tech when the 6-foor-8 Meka was out, defended by the 6-7 Moore. Williams was 9-for-12 for a team-high 20 points with 10 rebounds.

“Malik Williams, he was really the difference in the game,” Pastner said.

Meka was active and avoided turnovers in his 20 minutes, finishing with two points, four rebounds and two blocks.

“I think we were much better when Jordan Meka was in the game defensively,” Pastner said.

In the Jackets’ first game out of pause, they used 10 players, giving nine of them at least 9:35 of playing time, uncharacteristic of Pastner, who prefers a shorter rotation. Pastner said it was necessary because of the players’ cardiovascular shape coming out of the pause.

“For us, coach wanted to also sub a lot of guys because he knew our conditioning level wasn’t at a high level,” Devoe said. “For us, we have to understand that and keep playing through those things. Once we start getting our groove back, we’ll be really good.”

With Meka less experienced with being the focal point of the Jackets’ Princeton-style offense, Pastner implemented new plays into the scheme since the team returned from its pause on Thursday.

Tech also welcomed back guard Bubba Parham, playing his first action of the season after undergoing surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his right knee prior to the season. Parham played 15 minutes and had some rust in his first live action since March.

“He’ll be better,” Pastner said. “He just needed to get his wind underneath him and get some game experience.”