Shot selection compromising Georgia Tech’s efforts

Georgia Tech guard Deivon Smith scored a season-high 16 points in the Yellow Jackets' 88-65 loss to North Carolina January 15, 2022 in Chapel Hill, N.C. (Jaylynn Nash)

Credit: Jaylynn Nash

Credit: Jaylynn Nash

Georgia Tech guard Deivon Smith scored a season-high 16 points in the Yellow Jackets' 88-65 loss to North Carolina January 15, 2022 in Chapel Hill, N.C. (Jaylynn Nash)

Georgia Tech forward Jordan Usher saw an opening, drove and scored, taking advantage of his advantage in quickness against North Carolina forward Dawson Garcia. His layup and one free throw cut the Tar Heels’ lead to 32-24 with 5:34 remaining.

Against a North Carolina team that held advantages in talent and size and was also shooting exceptionally well, Tech had a tenuous grasp on the game, but was still in it. After a stop at the other end, the Jackets could cut into the lead even further, but guard Kyle Sturdivant’s drive over 6-foot-8 forward Justin McKoy was off the mark. Tar Heels forward Leaky Black snared the rebound, took off downcourt and was never stopped. His coast-to-coast layup returned North Carolina’s lead to 10 points.

As it turned out, Tech trailed by double digits for the remainder of the game, falling 88-65 to the Tar Heels Saturday night in Chapel Hill, N.C. Again, a prolonged scoring drought capsized Tech’s chances, as has happened frequently in the Jackets’ bumpy season.

After Usher’s basket and free throw at the 5:34 mark, the Jackets were stuck on 24 points for the next 3 ½ minutes, an expanse of six possessions during which time the Tar Heels added 10 points to take a 42-24 lead and effectively put the game away.

Tech was felled by what seemed to be rushed shot selection in the midst of that run.

“You’re not scoring, you’re not making shots, you try to squeeze in a tough play, and not as much ball movement,” coach Josh Pastner said. “But we’re not built that way.”

After Usher’s score, over the next six empty possessions, the Jackets player who first touched the ball after it crossed the half-court line shot it (and missed) without passing three times. Two more times Tech made one pass before putting the ball up or turning it over. On the remaining possession, the Jackets made three passes before 6-foot-2 guard Tristan Maxwell unsuccessfully attempted a 3-pointer over the challenge of 6-foot-9 forward Brady Manek. The teams’ two leading scorers, Usher and guard Michael Devoe, didn’t take any of the shots.

An Usher jumper ended the drought, effectively finishing a three-pass possession.

“Shot selection, for sure,” Usher said. “When we get a stop, we can’t come back down and give them basically a stop right back with a rushed shot. I’m all for it, if we’re open, letting our shooters hit, but sometimes we just need to keep the ball moving.”

Particularly if the Jackets continue to go without center Rodney Howard (ankle injury) and play a smaller lineup with the 6-7 Usher at center, effective stewardship of their possessions will be critical. Tech plays at a disadvantage on defense with the smaller lineup against the opponent’s post players, meaning the Jackets have to be even more efficient than usual at the other end. Against Boston College, 7-0 forward Quinten Post scored a career-high 24 points on 10-for-14 shooting. Saturday, 6-10 forward Armando Bacot matched his career high with 29 points on 10-for-16 shooting.

Tech did at times run its offense well. A few minutes before the aforementioned scoring drought began, for instance, Usher and guard Deivon Smith worked an easy give-and-go. From the right wing, Usher slipped a bounce pass to Smith as he went backdoor for a layup, a textbook score out of the Jackets’ Princeton offense. Usher was Tech’s most effective player, scoring a team-high 22 points on 9-for-16 shooting with a team-high seven rebounds with three assists, tied for the team high. He cleared 1,000 points for his career in the process.

“You can be small, but you’ve got to score,” Pastner said. “And (Saturday), we just could not score. We missed some opportunities, missed some open shots. I thought we took some tough shots.”

Unfortunately for Tech, the Jackets have not been strangers with prolonged scoring lapses, often fed by hurried shots. In their seven-game stretch between the first North Carolina game and last week’s game against Notre Dame, the Jackets went scoreless for at least four minutes in the second halves of six of the games. Tech lost five of those games and six overall.

Against Boston College last Wednesday, the Jackets avoided another second-half four-minute drought, but barely. Tech gave up a 65-55 lead with 10:13 to play in the game by scoring a single point until 4:04 remained, fueling a 15-1 Eagles run.

It wouldn’t seem the likely fate to befall a team with two players combining to average 34.5 points per game (Devoe and Usher), but having inexperienced hands around them hasn’t helped. After the game, Pastner was asked about his satisfaction with the team’s shot selection.

“I thought it was 50/50,” Pastner said. “Half the game, we had good movement. The other half, I thought we were pressing.”

The Jackets won’t face an assignment as daunting as North Carolina on the road for the remainder of the regular season. But, aside from the newly scheduled home game against Clayton State on Sunday, there’s no gimmes remaining for a team that is last in the ACC at 1-5 (7-9 overall).

“We have to get back to it and keep working,” Usher said.