First season over, expectations rise for Georgia Tech’s Damon Stoudamire

WASHINGTON, D.C. – After a dramatic rally came up short, Damon Stoudamire’s first season at Georgia Tech reached its conclusion just as much of it had played out. There were segments of inspired play, defensive lapses, dynamic playmaking from the freshman duo of guard Naithan George and forward Baye Ndongo and, lastly, a loss to a team that the Yellow Jackets could well have beaten.

This time, it was to Notre Dame Tuesday afternoon in the first round of the ACC Tournament, and it drew the curtains on the season.

With the 84-80 loss at Capital One Arena, the Jackets finished their season with a 14-18 record, their third losing season in a row. In the ACC, only Tech and Louisville have managed that lamentable hat trick.

Early on, Tech fell behind 17-5 (Stoudamire said he felt that the team was intimidated by the moment at first) and gave the Fighting Irish the confidence it would ride the rest of the way. Down 65-48 with 12:59 left, the Jackets fought their way back in with a full-court press that flustered Notre Dame. Tech took two one-point leads in the final 4 ½ minutes, but the Irish took the lead for good on a fast-break layup by ACC rookie of the year Markus Burton with 1:16 to play.

Tech had two more possessions to tie or take the lead, but failed executions of a pick-and-roll by George and Ndongo resulted in turnovers to seal its fate.

“Proud of our guys for fighting back this evening,” Stoudamire said. “They did a really good job in the second half, and they gave us a chance to win the game.”

It was not the end Tech hoped for, particularly with George and Ndongo combining for 46 of the Jackets’ 80 points and making 16 of 29 field-goal attempts. George was a confident playmaker, making five of eight 3-point tries and handing out seven assists. Ndongo was relentless in the paint, fighting for seven rebounds and drawing six fouls.

And, it bears mention, Ndongo did so while observing Ramadan. Despite not having eaten or even drank a sip of water after sunrise – 7:21 a.m. in Washington, 6 1/2 hours before the 2 p.m. tipoff – Ndongo played 35 minutes and even at the end was diving on the floor and battling for rebounds. In the Tech locker room after the game, he was told that he looked exhausted.

“I am,” he said.

As has often been the case at Tech for much of the last several years, it was an admirable effort that dignified the team but nonetheless fell short.

And now, Stoudamire’s honeymoon has officially ended and raised expectations ensue. In his first year following the dismissal of Josh Pastner, Stoudamire showed he could deliver results, specifically with wins over the four ACC teams ranked highest in KenPom as of Tuesday – No. 7 Duke, No. 8 North Carolina, No. 24 Clemson and No. 26 Wake Forest, the latter two on the road. Tuesday, Notre Dame coach Micah Shrewsberry offered what seemed a genuine compliment of what the former NBA star has done in one season.

“They run good stuff,” Shrewsberry, like Stoudamire a former Boston Celtics assistant coach, said of the Jackets. “They play, like, an NBA system. He might not have all the pieces that he wants right now, but they’re doing good things, and he’s going to continue to add, and he’s got good young freshmen.”

But the Jackets were also 1-6 against the five other teams in the ACC that finished with a losing league record (including Tuesday’s defeat which completed a three-game sweep for the Irish). They were second to last in the ACC in defensive efficiency in league games.

Tuesday, they did not mind closely enough Notre Dame’s leading 3-point shooter, Braeden Shrewsberry. After blitzing the Jackets for a career-high 25 points in a January win at Tech, the son of the Notre Dame coach made them pay with 5-for-8 shooting from behind the arc in a 23-point game. It stemmed at least in part from a shortage in attention to detail and consistency that Stoudamire did not stomach well.

“Like, when I tell you something, it’s because I studied it,” he said. “I’m not telling you because I’m guessing. I studied it. The plan and the emphasis will be to get people to think like coach Stoudamire moving forward. That to me has to be the emphasis.”

And that’s where Stoudamire’s offseason commences. After putting together a team on the fly last offseason, Stoudamire has had a year to learn his roster and the ACC. He has had time to learn how the college game has transformed since he left Pacific to become a Celtics assistant coach in 2021.

He will set out to find more players who can play the way he wants and play with the consistency, attention to detail and connectedness that he has said were lacking this season.

“I look forward to moving forward,” Stoudamire said. “For me, it really starts now. It’s time to try to go restructure the team and look at players. That’s part of it.”

The restructuring, for better or worse, is the state of the game. Stoudamire brought in nine new scholarship players last offseason. The 2024-25 roster may well be shuffled again.

He has two high-school prospects signed (including a four-star talent) and a commitment from a second four-star player. He will likely be hoping that Tech supporters come up with name, image and likeness deals significant enough for George and Ndongo to keep them happy at Tech, as other coaches performing their own restructures will surely be interested.

In the first year, flaws and shortcomings could be explained away as the consequences of a takeover. It won’t fly as far next year.

Which is not to say the envisioned step forward won’t happen. Particularly if George and Ndongo remain as building pieces and the incoming freshmen are equal to their billing, there’s ample reason to like what’s going on with Stoudamire. But the ship may take some time to change course. The Jackets have been to one NCAA Tournament in the past 14 seasons, a span covering four coaches.

But, keep beating Duke and stop losing to Boston College, and that berth (or, dare we say it, berths?) may not be too far off. It’ll just take more – more from Stoudamire’s players and more from Stoudamire himself.

“I think that we have a really bright future,” he said. “I learned a lot this year.”